The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

January 24, 2013

Williams will present history of Stanly theatres


Friday, January 25, 2013 — On Jan. 31, the Stanly County Museum and Historical Society will offer a program “Reel History,” the history of theatres in Stanly County. The presenter will be John Thomas Williams Jr., a visual arts teacher and local historian. Williams will share information and photographs he has collected showing the history of the many theatres that have offered entertainment in Stanly County over the years. Williams also plans to show a movie of Albemarle filmed in the mid-1930s.

The program will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Groves Building, 143 N. Second St. in downtown Albemarle (next to the old Alameda Theatre). The program is free and open to the public. Seating is limited. Call the Stanly County Public Library and Museum at (704) 986-3755 or email to make a reservation. Include your name, phone number and the number in your party.

Several years ago Williams was asked to help locate photographs for the Uwharrie Capital Corpora-tion vintage photograph calendar. Each year a theme is selected for this project. Since Uwharrie Capital is the holding company for Anson Bank and Trust, Cabarrus Bank and Trust and Bank of Stanly, each calendar includes four pages with pictures representing each of the three counties, Anson, Cabarrus and Stanly.

“The 2013 calendar on theatres has been on the waiting list of themes for years and so far it is my favorite project,” Williams said.

“The calendar takes months of research and tracking down photos. Vintage maps and local history books are helpful. Talking to people who love the history of their town is also very important.”  

For Williams, who is originally from Wadesboro, the calendar project has been an opportunity to learn more about the history of his own hometown as well as about Albemarle and Stanly County.

As a child Williams remembers going to the Center Theatre on West Main Street.

“I always wanted to see what was behind the two doors on either side of the foyer marked for employees only,” Williams said.  

Later when he was in high school Williams attended First Assembly of God when it was meeting in the theatre building. Finally he was able to explore the building. Williams discovered that behind the two doors were interesting wrought iron railings that once led to the mezzanine and balcony of the old Stanly Theatre.  

“I was hooked,” Williams said.

Later research turned up photos of the Stanly Theatre when it opened and old newspapers including descriptions of the great movie palace.

“There is amazing plaster work that was covered when the building was remodeled in the 1960s and the name was changed to the Center on the marquee. Unfortunately, very few people remember just how amazing the building was in its early days as the Stanly Theatre and only remember the building as the Center Theatre,” he said.

Williams calls the Stanly Theatre “Albemarle’s diamond in the rough” and his biggest dream is to see the theatre brought back to life. When talking about the yearly calendar project Williams said, “Each year it is usually a certain photo or building that fuels the fire for the theme. The Stanly Theatre was that building for the 2013 calendar.”

In addition to learning about the Stanly Theatre, program attendees will learn about the history of other early theatres such as: the Duval, Carolina, Edi-sonia, Bijou, Majestic, Col-umbia, Alameda, Victoria, Roxy, Center and Lyric. The program will also include information about theatres that once offered entertainment in Badin, Norwood, New London, Oakboro and Richfield.

Williams is a 1991 graduate of Wingate College. He holds a bachelor of arts degree, double majoring in art and education which allows him to teach students the love of art. Williams teaches visual arts to students at North Stanly High School. He has been an educator for the past 20 years.

Williams attributes much of his success as an artist to professors at Wingate. They exposed him to painting techniques and gave him the confidence to try new things. Williams encourages his students in much the same way he was encouraged as an art major at Wingate.

Williams and his wife, Nicole, reside in Albemarle and have two sons. Both sons are budding artists and hope to follow in their father’s footsteps of creativity in future years.

Most recently Williams received accolades from the Stanly County Arts Guild for his artwork. He has been ranked in the Top 10 in the National Preservation Pos-ter Contest. He created the logo for downtown Albe-marle and was the featured Artist for Albemarle’s 2002 Christmas card.

In addition to his talent as an artist, Williams has also been involved in numerous community projects. His love for Albemarle and its history began when he and Nicole bought the Smith-Currier home on Pee Dee Avenue in 1994. He helped organize the Pee Dee residents and as a group they raised money to have their street listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Williams has helped with several major restoration projects in downtown Albemarle, including the Boardroom Bar and Bistro and the King Building facades on Second Street. He also helped with restoration projects on Pee Dee Avenue and the Denning house on Second Street. He is proud of his role in helping to save the old Albemarle High School building.

In his spare time Williams enjoys reading old Albemarle newspapers and collecting photographs of Albemarle. Williams and his family currently live in the A.C. Huneycutt house on North Third Street.