Charleston should rescue Will Rogers Theater

As reported in The Daily Eastern News on Monday, Jan 24, there is a growing movement in Charleston to have the Will Rogers Theater recognized as a historic local landmark.

The editorial board supports this movement and believes its success would go far in preserving an important piece of Charleston’s past and revitalizing its future.

The Will Rogers Theater was built in the 1930s and is the only building in Charleston built in the Art Deco style.

The theater was the main cinema in the area for over a generation. It was a place to watch movies and make memories; the Internet abounds with stories of first dates and first kisses at the Will Rogers.

Over the years, the theater has fallen into disrepair. It has changed owners several times and the current owner, AMC, closed its doors last November. It has sat vacant ever since.

The recession has been particularly hard on movie theaters and the success of websites like Netflix and Hulu have only made things harder.

As it is, the Will Rogers is an empty, if pretty, building taking up quite a bit of space in downtown Charleston.

If nothing is done to rescue the theater, AMC could sell it to the highest bidder and the Will Rogers, along with its history and memories, could be gutted to make way for yet another dollar store.

But if the building is granted landmark status it could become a cultural hub of the Charleston community.

The Will Rogers could host community theater, concerts, lectures, forums and, of course, films. Charleston could be a place that proudly hosts independent filmmakers from all over the country.

Some argue that such a project is unfeasible in these tough economic times. True, it is hard enough for businesses in Charleston to merely stay afloat these days.

However, if the Will Rogers did obtain landmark status, it would qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in Tax Increment Funding, and the government would be able to match contributions from individual donors.

We believe that preserving the past, and promoting the pride and culture of this community, is a worthy cause at any time.

The Will Rogers Theater has the potential to create economic growth. But the theater also carries with it a sense of identity, something priceless to a community like Charleston.