By David Meade/Elaine Hunt
Another Historic Landmark in downtown Williamston is now just a memory.
The Williamston Theater, which hosted movies and entertainment since the 1940s, was torn down Tuesday.
Demolition work began around 10 a.m. and by 5 p.m., all that remained was two walls and a pile of rubble being loaded onto a truck.
Several people watched the work throughout the day, including owner Ken Major. Major said continuing upkeep costs on the empty building was the reason it was being torn down. He currently has no plans for the property.
After it became known several weeks ago that the building was to come down, a few people saved some of the theater seats that were still inside.
Through the years the Williamston Theater played many of the top movies of the day and hosted some musical events. Many area residents spent delightful hours watching the latest movies and cartoons while eating popcorn and enjoying cherry Cokes with friends.
Construction on the Williamston Theater was underway in December 1941, Louis A. Linder was the owner.
The building was constructed of gray concrete blocks and was to be equipped with all modern conveniences. The design and equipment was 10 years in advance of most other theaters at the time with comfortable upholstered chairs. It had a seating capacity of 450 and was to be completed by January 1942.
When the Theater opened, a fashion show was held by high school students between the evening pictures to benefit the March of Dimes.
In May 1952, eight motion picture companies filed suits in Federal District Court against Linder, charging that he returned false statements of admission receipts at three theaters he owned in the area. He owned the Williamston Theater and theaters in Pelzer, Piedmont, Pendleton. At the time films were rented to exhibitors on a percentage basis.
In 1968, a pop music concert featuring the BLADES and THE SHADOWS OF TYME bands was held at the Williamston Theater.
On January 30, 1970, the Williamston Theater was broken into and musical equipment taken. Five persons were charged with the theft. The musical equipment was owned and stored in the theater by several small bands and some equipment belonged to L. E. Wagner, band director of Palmetto High School.
In July 1986, L. A. “Luke” Linder, Sr. died at age 81. He was the owner of movie theaters in Pelzer, Piedmont, Williamson and Pendleton. David Roberts became the owner operator of the Williamston movie theater.
The theater became known as “The Rat Palace” during the final years it operated.
It is unclear when the theater closed, probably sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980’s. It briefly was reopened with movies being shown for year or so during the mid 1980s. After that it remained unused.
In 1997, a Williamston woman fainted at the wheel of her car and hit another vehicle before careening into the Factory Outlet building (which was next to the theater) and then went airborne crashing into the old movie theater causing heavy damage.
By David Meade/Elaine Hunt