History of the Savoy Theatre

The Savoy Theatre was one of two long-time African American movie theatres that operated in Charlotte’s Brooklyn Village neighborhood, the city’s premier African American neighborhood during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century.

Savoy TheatreSavoy Theatre

It opened as the Royal in 1927 then became the Savoy in 1929. It closed for several years in the depths of the Great Depression, then reopened right after World War II on September 1, 1945. The theater fell to the bulldozers of “urban renewal” in the late 1960s.

Students at Second Ward High School, circa 1950s. Photo donated by Second Ward National Alumni Association to the Robinson Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.Students at Second Ward High School, circa 1950s. Photo donated by Second Ward National Alumni Association to the Robinson Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

The Bijou Amusement Company of Nashville, Tennessee, owned the Savoy in 1945. The theater stood at 508 S. McDowell Street — where Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard intersects McDowell Street today. Bijou also owned the other major African American theater in the Brooklyn neighborhood, the Lincoln at 408 E. Second Street in the heart of the city’s main black business district.

Live broadcast on WGIV radio from CharlotteLive broadcast on WGIV radio from Charlotte's Excelsior Club, mid 1940s. Photo donated by Carolyn Wyche to the Robinson Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Bijou Amusement was owned by the Starr family of Nashville, who also helped create the Theater Owners Booking Association, the network of African American theaters that booked live music and vaudeville entertainers throughout the U.S.

Hanging out, late 1940s. Photo donated by Bernard L. Brown to the Robinson Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.Hanging out, late 1940s. Photo donated by Bernard L. Brown to the Robinson Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

For the Savoy’s 1945 reopening, the owners hired Louis Asbury, one of Charlotte’s leading architects, to extensively redesign the facility in the newly fashionable Art Deco style. Asbury’s renovation drawings still exist in Special Collections at Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte.

CharlotteCharlotte's Southland Jubilee Singers, 1940s, went on to become The Four Knights, recording for Capitol Records and appearing on national TV into the 1960s. Photo donated by Virginia E. Keogh to the Robinson Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Information developed by: Tom Hanchett, Community Historian, October 30, 2018 Tom@HistorySouth.org

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