Once the most popular spot in town and the only place to see a movie, the Kingsland Theatre now houses the Theatre Apartments in Kingslan GA.
Former Kingsland, GA Mayor J. Nolan Wells, who opened the first theatre in Camden County in 1942, loved the movie house and musicals and brought his picture shows to schools in Kingsland, Woodbine, and St. Marys. (Source: Maxine Wells).
Wells, whose daughter Maxine’s watercolor paintings of the theatre have become well-known among the community, served as mayor in 1927. He died in 1963, after serving a split-term and bringing the movie theatre to the county. While performing his mayoral duties from 1950-1952 and 1955-1963, he also served as Kingsland representative of the Georgia legislature, according to Maxine.
He was serving in this capacity when he died, records show.
Wells used to bring black and white movies that he showed at the theatre to schools in 1935 before he opened the cinema. He traveled from school to school with a portable projector in his panel truck, Maxine remembered. His first move ever shown was “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch” projected on the wall of the family room at home, Maxine recalled.
The interior of the Kingsland Theatre was made up of hard, narrow seats, unlike the plush ones of Camden County theatres today. Admission was taken up in a cigar box and adults paid .25 while children were charged ten cents. The Sunday-Monday feature was always the best movie available, like the MGM musicals. The Tuesday-only picture was a sort of “B” film, and the Wednesday-Thursday show was in the medium range, stated Maxine.
The Friday-Saturday films were westerns, Wells’ most popular movies. On Saturday and Sundays there were also matinees. (Source: Wells family).
Maxine worked in the theatre beside her father, who ran the place. Wells also hired several boys in the community to help him. Maxine remembered her friends thinking it was “neat” that her father owned the theatre.
That was always a big feature because Maxine got into movies free.
Maxine later had some of her favorite old musicals on videotape.
The theatre served as a distraction for residents who were faced with the Pearl Harbor bombing in 1942 and the beginning of World War II, which was the busiest time for the theatre. (Source: Camden County Chamber of Commerce). Many people who didn’t read newspapers kept up with national news through the newsreels. And several became addicted to the serials that were run as a regular part of the show, the forerunners of today’s TV soap operas.
Maxine reminisced that it was a godsend for the community because it gave them something to do. Gas was rationed and you couldn’t go anywhere. And you could walk to the theatre. For the little theatres, television was their undoing, Maxine revealed.
Wells installed concessions in the theatre after the war. His son, Norman got laughs with his selling technique: “Come and get the best popcorn in town,” he would cry out. Everyone knew it was the only popcorn in town.
In 1950 the theatre was remodeled for wide screens and in May 1951, the facility was renovated with a new marquee, which remained in place for several years. (Source: Kingsland City Hall).
In 1952 when television came on the scene, the theatre began to move out of the spotlight and officially closed in 1965, two years after Wells passed away. By the 1950s he had cut his movies down to weekends. (Source: Kingsland records).
The theatre did a good business for ten years but television was kind of the beginning of the end of the movie house, revealed Maxine.
The Woodbine Theatre, which would have competed with the Kingsland one never opened and deteroriated, Maxine explained.
The Kingsland Theatre building was bought in 1980 by Savannah entrepreneur Charles Smith and made into Porta-Electra Electric/Plumbing Supply Store. It stayed in business for ten years before it was moved to Highway 40. (Source: county records).
Then, when Smith couldn’t sell the building, he convered it into apartments in 1990, the same year as the theatre site’s 50th birthday.
Once a center of attraction during the 1940s, it is now Theatre Apartments and in much need of repair and refurbishment, according to Downtown Development Authority Manager for the City of Kingsland, Trish Jared.
“The City of Kingsland would welcome a new owner with interest in returning this classic building to its former glory,” she said. “It is listed in the Historic Registry. The owner of such a property is eligible for tax incentives and low-interest loans when they restore a historic building.”
For more information, call 912-729-2848.