Live performance is dearly loved by the Charleston community– from ballet to jazz to comedy and cutting edge theatre, the Holy City is known for quality shows. One of Charlestonians’ favorite venues is the beautiful and historic Sottile Theatre, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2017. Originally named the Gloria Theatre, it was built by Albert Sottile, President of the Pastime Amusement Company, opening to delighted audiences in 1927. Originally fitted with 2,000 seats, the Gloria Theatre was the largest of its kind in South Carolina. The theatre served as both a vaudeville house and movie theatre and was designed as a smaller version of the great movie palaces of the era. The South Carolina premiere of Gone with the Wind, which highlighted Charleston’s charm and grace, was held at the theatre with most of the original cast on site for the occasion. Until closing its doors in 1975, the Sottile Theatre served primarily as a movie house. Fortunately, the building was acquired by the College of Charleston from the Sottile family, rescuing an important piece of the city’s history.
In 1986, the College of Charleston began refurbishing the building, and the Sottile Theatre reopened in February 1990. The renovations preserved many of the landmark building’s unique features and added considerable new space. When more improvements were made in 2011, a significant historical find, two large-scale murals, were found hiding beneath acoustic tiles originally glued over the artwork in an effort to improve sound quality. Painted on canvas by Italian artists from New York City during the theatre’s construction in the 1920s, one scene depicts a centaur and nymphs before a forested and mountainous background. The College of Charleston has begun the meticulous restoration of these masterpieces, removing one mural for safekeeping and repair. The other mural has been uncovered and left hanging, its blemishes, damage and deterioration on display to theatre patrons. Much of the restoration work will involve remediation of the many spots of glue used to attach the tiles to the murals decades ago.
Today, the main auditorium still features a shimmering, blue, sky-like dome with twinkling stars created from lights above. Side archways are covered with ornamental ironwork and the original domed ceiling is surrounded by a plaster oculus.
According to Anja Kelley, Director of Operations, approximately 75 events are held in Sottile Theatre each year, the largest being well known Spoleto Festival USA. A twenty year arts management veteran, Ms. Kelley is proud of the theatre’s place in the Charleston arts community. “In the ‘20s and ‘30s, Albert Sottile built many of these grand theatres – there were several on King Street alone. Today, the Sottile is the only one still operating as a performance venue.”
This winter, the theatre will present a wide variety of performances. In January, the Charleston Comedy Festival presents the talent of Colin Quinn and Iliza Schlesinger, and jazz lovers will groove to the Charleston Jazz Festival’s Family Day. In March, the International Piano Series hosts Igor Lipinski and, later in the month, Ballet Evolution brings the magic of Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina to the Sottile stage to the great delight of audiences young and old.
For a complete schedule of events and more information about the Sottile Theatre, visit http://sottile.cofc.edu or call 843-953-6340.