The Roanoker September/October 2017 - 68
THE GRANDIN THEATER | FUTURE IS NOW
BACK IN THE DAY, ROANOKE WAS HOME to
more than a dozen historic theatres. The Lyric, the Bijou,
the Isis, the Princess, the Comet, the Electric Parlor, the
Wonderland, the Azusu, the Boston, the American, the
Roanoke, the Jefferson, the Rialto, the Park.
They're all gone now. But the names must read like
prayer beads to those who remember their parents and
grandparents talking about matinees in the gilt splendor
of these elegant theatres.
One survivor of the historic theatre wrecking ball lives
on in Roanoke: The Grandin. If Executive Director Ian
Fortier has his way, the Grandin will be around for a
very long time.
It would be difficult to find someone in Roanoke who
hasn't heard of the Grandin, which is acknowledged to
be the "economic, geographic, and historic anchor" of
Grandin Village. The Spanish Renaissance exterior with
its terra cotta tiles is a standout, and its unique, Castlestyle stone wall interior is memorable for its gargoyles
and ornate proscenium.
Though a detailed history of the Grandin remains to
be written, the broad plotline of its 85-year story goes like
this. Designed by Roanoke architect John Zink as the first
theatre built for talking pictures in the valley, the Grandin
opened its doors in March, 1932. The feature? The film
adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' Pulitzer-prize-winning novel
"Arrowsmith," starring Ronald Colman and Helen Hayes.
Grandin history also includes the eight-year period
from 1976-1983 when the Mill Mountain Playhouse
Company produced over 30 full-length productions on
the Grandin Stage before moving to its new home in
Center in the Square.
From 1984 to 1985, the Grandin returned to life again
as a movie house, with the addition of major concerts by
the likes of John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Dave Brubeck,
BB King, Buddy Rich and John Prine.
For 68 years, the Grandin was privately owned. The
last of these owners, Julie Hunsaker, brought indie and art
house films to the screen starting in 1986. The struggling
theatre enjoyed a boost from Bill Murray's 1990 benefit
appearance. (Murray was in the area for the filming of
"What About Bob?")
Right: Local artwork offers
patrons an interesting view
Facing Page (Top): Castlestyle stone wall interior with
gargoyles makes the space
Facing Page (Bottom): Fresh
popcorn and treats await
68 | SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017