The restoration of the Gem Theatre Marquee is in its final stages as the theatre prepares for the return of summer blockbusters in downtown Kannapolis.
The iconic Gem Theatre marquee was originally constructed in 1936. Its historic blue hues had faded, and the neon lighting was not operable in some areas. It was time for a facelift. The City of Kannapolis, who owns the theatre, worked with Clearscapes and RiteLite Signs, on a plan to gingerly remove the marquee panels, restore them and very carefully put them back in place. The process has been underway since February of 2021. The final steps are underway this week as all of the marquee panels are being reinstalled.
Great care was taken to preserve the historic authenticity of the marquee. Approximately 50 unique neon lighting pieces were reproduced with all new fittings and transformers. Original colors such as the distinguished blue on the marquee were restored as accurately as possible using special mixes.
The restoration of the marquee is the first phase of renovations for the Gem Theatre. The first phase also includes the addition of handicap accessible restrooms, event space and an additional exit corridor all on the first floor and a new HVAC system. The City of Kannapolis, as owner of the theatre, is funding the first phase at a cost of $1.1 million.
The theatre is expected to reopen this summer once all of the first phase of renovations is complete. The City purchased the theatre property in 2015 as part of the Downtown Revitalization Project. The operations of the Gem Theatre are managed and owned by Steve Morris. The Gem Theatre renovations are an additional catalyst project which is expected to bring additional private investment to the City of Kannapolis.
History of Gem Theatre
The Gem Theatre opened in December of 1936. A fire nearly destroyed it in 1942 but it was rebuilt and reopened in 1948. It is one of the oldest single screen movie theatres with balcony seating in the United States. Its historic marquee and art deco architecture made it a unique place to see a movie. The theatre has seen a variety of performances over the years including Roy Rogers, Jimmy Pickens and the Grand Ole Opry, and the Avett Brothers. Admission and concession prices are reminiscent of the past and remain affordable allowing families to enjoy first run movies annually. It was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.