Varsity Theatre

123 E. Franklin Street,
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

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rivest266 on January 7, 2022 at 4:46 pm

This opened as the Carolina Theatre on September 26th, 1927 and was renamed Varsity on May 4th, 1951. Grand opening ads posted.

Crossroads on August 11, 2017 at 3:38 am

Varsity showed Rocky Horror Picture Show for a couple of years as a weekend late show. For a time, X rated fare was offered as a late show. Police presence was hired for showing of Pacino vehicle “Cruising” when the theater was warned that the gay community would trash the place if it was shown. Turned out there was a much bigger mess from Rocky Horror toast/water/rice throwing crowd. : )

raysson on March 16, 2015 at 10:34 pm

This theatre also got a lot of the Disney releases too. Some first-run showings. Among the most successful that brought in capacity crowds was the VARSITY’S first-run showing of MARY POPPINS.

raysson on March 16, 2015 at 7:12 pm

And speaking of the Varsity’s first-run showing of THE SOUND OF MUSIC……

It was shown first-run as a specially selective engagement presentation at Christmas of 1967 when the film was a general release.

raysson on December 30, 2014 at 11:26 pm


Downtown Chapel Hill’s landmark since 1927 is about to close it doors without it’s support. Go Digital or Go Dark Campaign……

See article about this landmark theatre…….

raysson on July 20, 2014 at 9:47 pm

the comments that ray revised here need to be posted for this theatre on the cinema treasures site.

ray must be a walking encyclopedia of Chapel Hill movie theatres.

raysson on February 5, 2014 at 9:52 pm

It opened as the CAROLINA THEATRE in Downtown Chapel Hill under the Publix Theatres chain on September 23,1927 with the opening features “Cheating Cheaters”, and “The Way of All Flesh”.

The coming attraction was “Hula” starring Clara Bow.

From 1927 until 1942 it was the CAROLINA THEATRE.

On October 15,1942, a new CAROLINA THEATRE in Downtown Chapel Hill opened across the street that seated 1,145 patrons. The cinema went under new management as it was renamed the VILLAGE THEATRE. It remained the VILLAGE THEATRE Downtown from 1942 until 1951.

On May 4,1951 the theatre was under new management and the name changed from the VILLAGE THEATRE to the VARSITY THEATRE. Under this new change upgraded additions were featured that included an expanded lobby section and a larger auditorium with super widescreen projection. By late-1954,more features were added to the VARSITY including the latest stereophonic sound and was equipped to show films in Cinema Scope projection. This theatre was owner and operated under H.B. Meiselmen/Eastern Federal Corporation from 1951 until 1982 as a single screener with 703 seats.

By November of 1982,the theatre underwent another renovation with the original auditorium of 703 seats were split into two sections and renamed the VARSITY 1 & 2 under Burlington/Greensboro, NC based Janus Theatres. Auditorium 1 seated 350. Auditorium 2 seated 205,bringing the total seating capacity to 555 seats. The theatre also changed formats from showing first-run movies to showing independent and foreign releases where it remained from 1982 until 2009.

raysson on August 28, 2013 at 10:47 pm

David Dymond: the original STAR WARS movie played here first-run on July 1,1977. Saw it here.

the original SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER played here first-run as the original ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW

raysson on August 28, 2013 at 9:11 pm

From 1952 until 1982,the VARSITY was owned and operated under H.B. Meiselman-Eastern Federal Theatres.

raysson on August 28, 2013 at 9:10 pm

David Dymond: The small tunnel to the front theatre that was illminated with Tivoli lighting was done in 1982 when this theatre was split into two sections and was renamed THE VARSITY 1 & 2 under Greensboro/Burlington based Janus Theatres. From 1982 until 2009,this theatre was Chapel Hill’s only venue for first-run features as well as foreign and independent releases until it changed hands when it became an independent cinema that was owned and operated by Bruce H. Stone that shows second-run films and classic Hollywood releases..

DavidDymond on August 28, 2013 at 12:22 am

This theatre was really neat. I loved how they made a small tunnel to the front theatre and illuminated it with Tivoli lighting. They were very independent and proud. They used REAL BUTTER and popped their popcorn in extra virgin olive oil. Saw many movies here!!

raysson on August 27, 2013 at 11:15 pm

During the 1950’s and early-1960’s this theater was the subject of its segregation policies towards African-Americans and was picketed. It was also the subject of many sit-ins that were against the Jim Crow laws of the South. Plenty of demonstrations occured here as well as other establishments throughout Chapel Hill that were segregated.

canibfrankwithyou on September 23, 2011 at 2:46 am

I was involved with the installation of the projection & sound equipment in 1982 when the theatre was disected. The twinning was accomplished in a front/rear layout. The rear auditorium was accessed by a lighted tunnel that used “Tivoli” style lighting which was becoming popular at that time. The effect was to immulate a time tunnel which was sometimes disconcerting to some patrons. The theatre was operated by the Janus Theatres of Burlington N.C. at that time.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 1, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Thanks raysson.Great story.You always seem to find the right articles to submit.

raysson on December 1, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Today’s edition of the Chapel Hill News:
The Varsity Theatre celebrates its first year after reopening one of Chapel Hill’s greatest landmarks.
More on this story:

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm

The Varsity’s official web site says that this theater opened in 1927 as the Carolina Theatre, and was later called the Village Theatre before finally becoming the Varsity Theatre in the 1950s.

The new Carolina Theatre opened on October 15, 1942, and this house was renamed the Village just prior to that event. Cinema Treasures currently has a page for the Village Theatre which is, of course, a duplication. Its introduction is accurate as far as it goes, and could be moved to this page, adding that the house was renamed the Varsity by 1952. As noted in my comment of May 27, 2009, above, this house was called the Varsity in a Boxoffice item from December 6, 1952, when Wil-Kin Theatre Supply was installing a new cycloramic screen.

Comments by Lost Memory on the Carolina Theatre page and on the redundant Village Theatre page say that the original Carolina Theater had a Robert-Morton organ installed in 1927.

This weblog post includes a nice photo of the Varsity Theatre. The year of construction, 1927, is carved into the building’s facade.

buymovieposters on August 1, 2010 at 5:06 am

the varsity is showing the rear window, the goonies and goldfinger over the next 3 or 4 weeks. i went back to the varsity for the first time since it changed ownership earlier this year to see the rear window. it was neat to watch a classic hitchcock film on the big screen. the theater is extreamly clean and they new owners have done an excellent job in keeping the classic feel of the old varsity. i love how prior to a films screening the show photos of what the theater used to look like and the crowds that attended viewings of classic films even prior to wwII. i definitely plan on going back considering i’m a student at unc. here are some photos below

View link

View link

View link

raysson on March 9, 2010 at 11:59 pm

From the previous comment:

Theater is re-opening with new and classic movies at discount prices!
All Seats for All Shows Are Just $3.00!!!!

They recently had some very good flicks that played at the Varsity.
James Cameron’s Avatar is REALLY pulling in some big business too as the main attraction!!! Forget going to see this in IMAX!!!! “Avatar” has been selling-out shows every night and the crowds are snaked around the cinema all the way down Franklin Street at discount prices! The website is

The classic films ranged from “Gone With The Wind”, “Mary Poppins”,
“Old Yeller”,to “Back To The Future”,“Raiders of the Lost Ark”,
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail”,“Fast Times At Ridgemont High”,
“Casablanca”,“A Clockwork Orange”,“Young Frankenstein”,and “Ben-Hur”.

Coming Soon: The Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello beach film festival

raysson on November 17, 2009 at 9:22 pm

George Lucas' STAR WARS played here at the Varsity on July 1, 1977 for six weeks. When the Varsity was a single screen theatre.

raysson on November 17, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Theater will reopen as a single screen theatre.

nyny on October 26, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Theater is re-opening with new and classic movies with $3 admission!

View link

bennbl01 on August 8, 2009 at 3:14 pm

How can I find out what the asking price is for the Varsity? I would love to see the theater restored and working.


pmseib on July 13, 2009 at 5:11 am

If anyone has lease or sales information can you please email me any info you have. I can be reached at

longislandmovies on July 7, 2009 at 12:10 am


raysson on July 3, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Rumor has it that the Varsity maybe turned into a performing arts center. That at least will bring back the thriving business that was located in Downtown Chapel Hill.

It is sad to see it close its doors as a popular Chapel Hill landmark.