130 Tarboro Street W,
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Architects: Erle G. Stillwell
Previous Names: Carolina Theatre
The Carolina Theatre was opened around 1930. The Drake Theatre is first listed under this name in the 1943 edition of Film Daily Yearbook.
It was a true grindhouse and may have been the only true grindhouse in the state of North Carolina when I knew the Drake Theatre from the early-1960’s into the early-1970’s. The theatre opened daily at 10:45am and at 12:45 on Sundays. In 1965 admission was 60 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. Within a year or two, adult admission was $1.00. The Drake Theatre had a balcony, and for a couple of years, they offered a reduced admission for balcony seating. Almost all programs were double features.
The Drake Theatre was part of the Charlotte, NC based Stewart and Everett Theatres. That company operated many upscale and high profile theatres in both Carolinas, as well as many drive-ins. The Drake Theatre was unique; bookings there were like a New York City 42nd Street grindhouse.
The Drake Theatre ventured into risque fare in the early to mid-1960’s; however, many programs remained suitable for children. I particularly remember the Drake Theatre showing many of the Mondo movies and many Russ Meyer films. A few of the double bills that I remember are Russ Meyer’s “The Immoral Mr. Teas” with “Mondo Topless”, “Moonlighting Wives” with Newman and Woodward’s “A New Kind of Love”, “Promises, Promises” with “3 Nuts In Search of A Bolt”, Meyer’s “Mudhoney” and “Motor Psycho”. There were also double bills of western, horror/gore, sci-fi films. Many were obscure B-grade films.
By the 1960’s the Drake Theatre was a little worn, but the theatre was clean and safe. All four of the Wilson, NC theatres were within a block of each other (Center, Colony, Drake, Wilson). By 1967 an occasional softcore porn movie played the Drake Theatre.
I left for college that year and did not return to Wilson until the early-1970’s and I wanted to revisit the Drake Theatre. It was playing a single feature of “101 Acts of Love”. The theatre now opened at 12:45 daily. This movie had been at the Drake for several weeks, yet there were over 100 people attending a weekday 1 PM showing, although “101 Acts of Love” was not true hardcore fare. That was my last visit to the Drake Theatre. I understand that hardcore XXX-rated films soon followed. I do not know when the Drake Theatre finally closed. I expect that it followed the trend of adult theatre closings in the advent of video.
I lived in a town about 25 miles from Wilson. As a teenager I drove to Wilson frequently to see the unique films playing the Drake Theatre. The Center and Cameo theatres in my town showed nothing like the movies at the Drake Theatre. I do not know of any other North Carolina theatre that had film bookings like the Drake Theatre. It was decades later before I realized how unique my Drake Theatre movie-going experiences were.
Wilson, NC is an eastern North Carolina town. In the mid-1960’s the population was less than 30,000, and the economy was centered on growing and selling tobacco. It has always seemed to me that this Southern tobacco town was an unlikely location for a grindhouse. After all, Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem had no theatre remotely similar to the Drake Theatre.
I just read online that there is a planned historic renovation of the Drake Theatre. Way to go!
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