WILMINGTON – The Murphy Theatre is nearly 100 years old, and the board of directors is making sure the grand theatre will stay in Wilmington for at least 100 more.
The Murphy is currently having work done on its leaky roof to stop deterioration inside the venue, which was opened by Charles Webb Murphy in 1918.
The funds to fix the roof came from a grant from the state, said Jennifer Hollon, board member. With that money, the board is working on fixing the exterior of the Murphy Theatre. Hollon said engineers examined the building to “tell us what’s wrong and what needs to be done,” she said.
The board of directors is also concerned with preserving the interior as it was almost 100 years ago, Hollon said.
“If Charles Murphy walked into this theatre today, he would recognize it,” she said.
Murphy wasn’t originally going to name the theatre after his family, Hollon said, but a friend talked him into it.
“It was originally going to be called the Clinton Theatre and one of his friends said, ‘You know, we have so many things here called Clinton for our county, why don’t you name it after your family?’” Hollon said.
So, Murphy named the theatre after his family, and it is now considered the family’s “monument”, she said.
Since the venue opened in 1918, there have been many entertainment acts hosted, Hollon said. The Murphy Theatre opened as a performing arts center before changing into a silent movies theater and then a “talkies” movie theater.
In the 1950s through the 1980s, Hollon said, the Murphy Theatre was more of a movie theater. In 1985, the Murphy family did not live in Wilmington anymore and they sold the theatre to Chakeres Theaters, which had been leasing the theatre since it opened.
After Chakeres Theaters bought the Murphy, they brought an architect in to inspect the building and investigate potentially lowering the ceiling and turning the one auditorium into two, Hollon said.
“When the townspeople found out, they were broken-hearted because they were going to destroy all the history in this theatre,” she said.
James Powell, of Liberty Bank at the time, and other business people in the town were so upset with the potential changes they went to Chakeres Theaters and offered to buy the Murphy, Hollon said.
Chakeres Theaters sold the Murphy, and the non-profit organization was born.
“Since then, it went from being primarily a movie theater to being a live performance theater,” she said.
In 1991, though, Hollywood contacted the board of directors.
The movie “Lost in Yonkers” was filmed at the Murphy Theatre. The production company did some work in the theatre — like taking up the red carpet in the lobby, which exposed the immaculate decorative tile that people currently see — and building a 1940s-style concession stand. The company also paid the board of directors $7,000.
“They did wonderful things,” she said.
Even though work is being done on the Murphy, Hollon said she wants to preserve a lot of the items in the theatre for historical purposes.
Some of the original items still in the theatre include the original switchboard and projector, although modern equipment is used in their place.
Even though the renovations on the exterior of the theatre is covered by the grant money, fundraising will need to be done to cover the interior renovations, Hollon said.
In order to do that, the Murphy can be rented out for special occasions like weddings and shows.
Rentals start at $500, she said, and the price is based on what people use the theatre for, Hollon said.
In addition to rentals, there will be different events coming to the Murphy in the next couple of months including a performance of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” There will also be the Merry Tuba Christmas, the annual family Christmas movie and the annual Christmas show, as well as different cover bands, said Maretta Alden, theatre manager.
Hollon hopes the renovations will keep the Murphy in the minds of Wilmington residents for years to come.
“It’s very dear to our hearts,” she said.
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