820-822 N. French Street,
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Architects: Orpheus King Fisher
Styles: Streamline Moderne
John O. and Josephine Hopkins launched the new-build Hopkins Theatre on May 23, 1951 to a capacity crowd of 750 with Burt Lancaster in “Vengeance Valley”. Frances Bell was at the theatre’s Hammond organ and Mayor James F. Hearn spoke at the event. It was a festive evening.
Hopkins' policy called for organ music at each showing with full orchestras and supporting stage shows for larger film bookings. It was definitely an ambitious programmatic undertaking given that even theatres in larger cities had abandoned such elaborate shows 20 years earlier. Certainly, television’s competition would have swayed most new theatre owners from staging such elaborate and costly presentations. But perhaps the Hopkins could buck the trend of downtown theatres which were going out of business.
The Hopkins Theatre was actually on the drawing boards in 1945 as the 876-seat Marian Anderson Theatre named for the soprano opera singer and designed by her husband Orpheus King Fisher, a noted African-American architect, and Josephine Hopkins' brother. Fisher’s steel structure resplendent in fluorescent tubing and stainless steel accents was a beacon for potential urban movie patrons.
The theatre was ostensibly a replacement for the aging National Theatre at 810 French Street, the only African American theatre in town since Hopkins acquired it in 1935. Delayed by post-War material shortages, the name of the Anderson project was, sadly, changed to the Hopkins Theatre and was part of the Shoppers Parking at N. French Street project that had been created in 1949 to alleviate parking woes for merchants. The name change was even more regrettable when on January 7, 1955, Anderson became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House.
The Hopkins Theatre was not the beacon that had been hoped for. The theatre reduced to just three-day a week operation in 1958. It seemed to make the news for the wrong reasons and closed following a double-feature of “Paths of Glory” and “No Down Payment” on May 31, 1958. The City of Wilmington obtained the vacant venue along with the National Theatre and a parking structure in 1965 for its Civic Center urban renewal project in 1965. The theatre was razed in November of that year.
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