Behind a shimmering King Street marquee is the historic Sottile Theatre, a now College of Charleston theater that has become a staple venue for the Festival. After a many rounds of renovations, this vintage movie house is now a roomy 900-seat house with an extended stage, restored artwork, and has much needed updated air conditioning. Read on to learn some Hidden Secrets of the Venue: Sottile Theatre.
This Festival season, the Sottile plays host to two dance performances, the first from South African choreographer Dada Masilo: The Sacrifice, and from Spoleto alum and Funny Girl tap choreographer Ayodele Casel: Chasing Magic. Later in the Festival, the Spoleto Festival USA Chorus and Orchestra will unite at the Sottile for an evening anchored by Handel’s Dixit Dominus, and the legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning Henry Threadgill and his ensemble Zooid take the Sottile stage on the Wells Fargo Jazz series.
1. The original name for the Sottile Theatre was: Gloria Theatre
The Gloria Theatre’s life began in 1922. Albert Sottile, who owned 4 other theaters in the area, commissioned its construction and opened in 1927. The Gloria showed vaudeville, touring shows, and films. Opening night showed After Midnight, a silent film staring Norma Shearer. Gone With the Wind was premiered in Charleston in 1939 with members of the cast in attendance at the Gloria.
2. The Gloria closed in 1975. The last movie shown was The Little Prince with Gene Wilder
During the mid-seventies, the economy had experienced a downturn. Albert Sotille and the Pastime Amusement Company had opened 11 more similar spaces around King Street between 1925 and 1931. However, the former Gloria Theater is the only one of these many movie houses that still functions as a performing arts space.
3. 1976 the College of Charleston took over
The College of Charleston used the space mostly as storage until 1986 when then CofC president Harry M. Lightsey Jr., started some minimal renovations. It was open and functioning as a theater in 1990. By then the the Sottile family and business donated the frontage to the College and was renamed in their generous honor. After the most recent renovations in 2020, the Sottile Theatre is now home to a roomy 900-seats with an extended stage, restored artwork, much needed updated air conditioning, dressing rooms, a green room, and storage space.
4. In 2011, two large-scale murals were discovered hiding beneath acoustic tiles
Painted on canvas during the theatre’s construction in the 1920’s, one scene seems to depict a centaur and nymphs before a forested and mountainous background. The other shows classical figures celebrating music and drama before a blue-green sea. “While the south mural had to be temporarily removed due to severe damage, the north mural was left uncovered; its blemishes, damage and deterioration were left on display to the Theatre’s patrons. Much of the restoration work would involve remediation of the many spots of tar used to attach the acoustic tiles to the murals decades ago.”-College of Charleston.
Who would cover these beautiful pieces of art? We don’t know but we are so glad to see them on display at the Sottile Theatre now.