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Greensboro NC Movie Theatres : the Star Theatre
Star Theatre was from the 1978 Grimsley High School yearbook

Greensboro, NC Movie Theatres : Star Theatre

by Billy Ingram

In the sixties, back when life spun at 45 revolutions per minute, there are so many places I remember fondly growing up in Greensboro, NC. I suppose you’d have to be over the age of sixty to recall Pixie Playhouse at UNC-G’s auditorium from 1962-1973 or the Circle K Club for kids on Saturday mornings at the Carolina Theatre during the 1960s.

It’s a shame the Star theatre is remembered, if it’s remembered at all, as what it became and not what it meant in the 1950s and ’60s as the center of the entertainment universe for kids residing in the Pomona, Proximity, White Oak, Revolution, Rankin, O.Henry Oaks, Hamtown, Koontz Town, Tenn Acres, and Bears Den neighborhoods, known collectively today as McAdoo Heights.

Beginning in the latter part of the 1920s, State Street emerged slowly as a shopping mecca for those aforementioned, unincorporated enclaves. By the late-forties, it was an avenue anchored by North Side Grocery, Kindley’s Place Beer Hall, Marshburn’s Cafe, Moore’s 5 to $1.00 Store, and Lois Beauty Salon. These mom and pop ventures were replacing the rapidly closing Cone mill villages’ company stores that had been a staple of mill life for decades.

After construction was completed in 1949, Star Theatre became State Street’s main attraction, a second-run movie house projecting well-worn, repaired-with-a-tomahawk prints handed down after their run at more prestigious venues like the Carolina and Terrace Theatres. These raggedy prints were saddled with multiple sprockets popping, truncated scenes and dialogue.

Vivian Saunders Kivett was born the same year the Star opened. “My mom took us there when we were real little, when I was 12-years old my parents would let us go there by ourselves,” Kivett says. “It was our thing, we’d get out of school on Friday and go over there Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday.”

With a capacity of 300 fannies, the Star was owned and operated by the Lashleys, by all accounts a warm and loving middle aged couple. Vivian Kivett describes Mr. [Carl] Lashley as, “tall, kind of stout, both he and his wife dressed like they were going to church. He always wore a sweater and a bow tie. Mrs. [Virgie] Lashley had the prettiest white silver hair, always perfect, a beautiful woman in word and action. Funny, we never knew the Lashley’s first names or thought to ask if they had children of their own.”

In 1963, 14-year old Vivian Kivett was hired on as an usher at the Star. “Mr. Lashley knew me well, knew my mom and dad so I did that for three or four years,” Kivett says. If the crew was thirsty, Mrs. Lashley would pour them a concoction she dreamed up. “She would put a little bit of orange soda in the cup, mix in some Coke, a little bit of cherry smash and she called it ‘bourbon,’ we thought we were really drinking something special,” Kivett recalls with a chuckle.

“You didn’t have a lot of places to go back then,” says Billy Williamson, frequent attendee in the early-sixties when the Star was date night central for mill village teens. However, under Mr. Lashley’s watchful eye, there was no hanky-panky going on in his joint. “You’d be over in a corner with a girl and the next thing you know there’d be a flashlight shining on you,” Williamson recalls from first hand experience. “Mr. Lashley or someone else would break you up.” Because the theatre owner knew the kids individually, as well as most of their families, Williamson would occasionally be pressed into service as an usher. “Sounded like a good time to me, I’ll shine a flashlight on someone.”

If filmgoers got too rowdy they were directed back into the lobby to sit on ‘The Bench.’ “Mr. Lashley would watch over them, even correct them,” Kivett says. “After he thought they had sat there long enough, he’d let them back into the theatre. If they were too unruly he’d call their parents and tell them to come pick them up.” While the theatre closed at 11:00pm, “Mr. Lashley would not lock the doors until all the kids were picked up and gone,” Williamson says. “When I think about it, they were mostly babysitters.”

In 1968, my mother somehow discovered, just a few blocks away on the wrong side of Elm Street, what amounted to a 50 cents an hour, 4-hour long babysitting service going on at the Star. From that weekend forward, myself, my brother, sister, along with the King girls who lived next door, ages ranging from 11-years old (that would be me) down to 6-years old, were dropped off promptly at 11:00am with my mom returning at 3:00 to scoop us up.

 

Movies I remember munching buttered popcorn over were, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,’ ‘The Love Bug,’ ‘Tarzan and the Jungle Boy,’ Don Knotts and Phyllis Diller/ Bob Hope farces, as well as schlockfests like ‘The Green Slime’ and ‘Island of Terror,’ the latter example 7-year old Toot King found so ghastly she hasn’t watch a horror movie since.

 

In 1969, the Lashleys decided to retire which meant selling the theatre they opened exactly twenty years earlier. By this point, the Star was a revered family operation for children all over the city. They had no inkling that the business wouldn’t continue along in the same manner as it always had.

“After he sold the theatre, Mr. Lashley called us all personally,” Kivett recalls. “He said, ’If I had known they were going to turn it into a porn theatre I never would have sold it to those people. We had no clue.’ He didn’t like it one bit but there was nothing he could do about it.”

Literally overnight, the Star began went from playing surrealistic Kurt Russell comedies and ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’ fluff to running X-rated flicks with deceptively benign titles like ‘Blast-Off Girls’ and ‘Tropic of Sweden.’

That’s how 5 innocent children were left standing on the sidewalk at 11:00am Saturday morning in front of the latest sin-ema experience as the city’s most pernicious perverts paraded by. Heck, how would 12-year old me know if ‘Tropic of Sweden’ wasn’t where Godzilla bubbled up from a radioactive primordial ooze? The ticket lady was kind enough to call our house. Problem was, dad was on the golf course and mom was at Belk’s, no one home to answer the phone. We were never seen or heard from again.

State Street began declining rapidly at that point. Sadly, the only photo I could find of the Star Theatre was from the 1978 Grimsley High yearbook, natty-looking teenagers brazenly posing in front of a location of ill-repute. Asked if they ventured inside after that pic was snapped one participant answered, “Yeah, probably.”

In 1984, State Street underwent a major transformation to become the quaint fashion and food destination frequented by the upscale Irving Park crowd today.

Whatever happened to the theatre itself? A third of the building houses Dan Boswell Spectrum Salon, the other two thirds is Cafe Pasta, serving exquisite Italian meals for almost 4 decades. It was one of my mom's favorite restaurant and I always enjoy eating there.

Greensboro NC Movie Theatres : the Star Theatre today
Former location of the Star Theatre

This transformation was a major undertaking, theatre floors naturally slant downward towards the screen so concrete was poured to elevate the floor, the ceiling, still very high, was lowered 9 feet, the projection room remodeled for upstairs dining. Once again this spot serves as an enticing, family owned and oriented setting; although I’m fairly certain no one will shine a flashlight your way should you be canoodling over Ray Essa’s Chicken Picatta.

In the 1980s, Vivian Kivett pulled her car over after spotting Mrs. Lashley walking her poodle outside a townhouse behind the Golden Gate Shopping Center. “She told me that Mr. Lashley had passed away and we got to talking about old times. Then she told me, ‘Ya’ll were our children, I’ve known you since you were a little bitty girl.’ I said, ‘Yes ma’am we were your children. And we always will be, Mrs. Lashley.’”

 

Greensboro NC Movie Theatres : the Star TheatreThe back wall of Cafe Pasta was the movie screen

Greensboro NC Movie Theatres : the Star Theatre
Looking toward the projection room upstairs

Greensboro NC Movie Theatres : the Star Theatre
1978(?) ad for the Star Theatre

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Greensboro, NC Movie Theatres :
Star Theatre

 

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Random 1960s Movie Theatre ads in Greensboro:Movie ads theatre in Greensboro

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The Plantation Supper Club was the finest in the South.

Movie ads theatre in Greensboro
(1968) Even before the Star opened, racy movies were being screened at local Drive-Ins like the Park.

 

 


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