A Kannapolis “gem” reopens to a standing ovation

Published 12:10 am Friday, May 17, 2024

KANNAPOLIS — The smell of popcorn has returned to the Gem Theatre. After five-and-a-half months of renovations, the Kannapolis landmark is once again open to the public. 

On Wednesday, the day before the theater was set to resume operating, the city held an open house celebration for the people who donated to see the Gem Theatre like it was during its heyday.

The theater has been in business on and off since 1936. In 2015 the city of Kannapolis bought it as a part of its downtown revitalization project. 

City council and staff welcomed an excited crowd as they gathered out front of the theater for a ribbon cutting ceremony to honor the entry of the building into the National Register of Historic Places. 

“This is a big day in Kannapolis, we’ve preserved a piece of history for the city of Kannapolis and now we’re reopening that piece of history for the city of Kannapolis and we think what we’ve done will help the theater last for many generations to come,” Parks and Recreation Director Gary Mills said.

The Gem Theatre fundraising project had over 700 people contribute north of $100,000 by sponsoring a new seat, a marquee brick or purchasing a vintage seat.

“There have been thousands of young people in Kannapolis that have had their first jobs here at the Gem Theatre and I’m proud that some of them are here today,” Steve Morris, the previous owner of the Gem, said.

Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant assured everyone that ticket prices and concessions will remain “inexpensive” despite the improvements.

Mills said work started in November when the parks and recreation staff removed seats from the theater. Besides new carpet, curtains, floors and a concession stand, Mills said the theater has a Dolby 7.1 surround sound system as well as a 4K laser projection system to make the crystal white movie screen that much more illuminating.

Mills confirmed that because the stage was redone during the remodeling process, theatrical productions will one day be performed at the Gem once the basement gets a makeover in July. 

Before the ribbon was cut, Mills announced there would be tickets available to watch “Top Gun: Maverick” later that night. “If” starring Ryan Reynolds will be the first official movie playing at the revamped Gem Theatre beginning Thursday.

Martha Rutledge Macon, daughter of Carlyle Rutledge, a past owner of the Gem, made an appearance at the celebration where she became overwhelmed with emotion. She said she only wished her father could have been there to witness the current Gem Theatre in all its glory.

“It’s a beautiful job, it’s just an incredible thing. Everybody loves the Gem Theatre, everybody loved coming here and it’s so nice to hear our history be revitalized,” Macon said. “My dad loved this theater.”

When a person walks through those doors, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for a bygone era. The two-story screening room is astounding and can feel like going back in time. There were also classic movie cards that Kannapolis Director of Communications Annette Privette Keller found when cleaning out the Gem lined on the walls.

Valerie Yowell has been a patron of the Gem since 1988 when she moved to Kannapolis from Florida and she said she couldn’t be happier with the changes. 

“It still looks like it did, only it’s updated. Which I like because I like things to be original,” Yowell said.