Tennessee Preservation Trust

UPDATE Ten in Tenn - Bonnie Kate Theater Up For Auction April 8th

Posted: 03/28/2016

Press release via Johnson City Press

Group moving forward on preservation plans for Bonnie Kate Theater

—John Thompson

ELIZABETHTON — A local foundation working to obtain and preserve the old Bonnie Kate Theater in downtown Elizabethton is not giving up its efforts, even though the property will be auctioned on April 8. The property has been assessed at $230,000.

“We intend to put in a bid,” group spokesman John Huber said Monday. For the bid to be successful, Huber said all those pledges that people have made in recent months to donate money toward the restoration must be called in.

“The bank won’t count pledges, we must have the cash in order to bid,” Huber said. In the event the bid is not successful, Huber said careful records of who gave the donations are being kept, and the money will be returned to each donor.

To make a contribution, checks or other gifts should be made payable to: Elizabethton-Carter County Community Foundation, P.O. Box 695, Elizabethton, TN 37644-0695. Gifts by credit card can be made by accessing the foundation’s page through the East Tennessee Foundation website www.easttennesseefoundation.org or click the “Give Where You Live link on the home page and select Carter County from the map or county listing.

If the bid is successful and the foundation gains ownership, the 501©(3) exemption will allow it to obtain private and public grants that can be used to restore the building, Huber said.

The Bonnie Kate began showing movies since 1926. That is before Hollywood made talkies, but it was the time of the Rayon Boom in Elizabethton, when many buildings went up and many businesses started.

The old theater is reflective of both its era in movie history and in the optimism of the boom time. It has elaborate outside brick work and craftsmanship throughout. It has fallen on hard times but Huber said the repairs can be made to return it to a showplace.

Huber said the plans are to turn it into a center for the performing arts. The theater area will be redone with new seating, and perhaps the seats will be removable and a floor that will have an adjustable tilt for movie audiences and level for dinners and dances will be installed.

The group also plans to restore the kitchen area so it can be rented to an upscale restaurateur. That way, the foundation will have steady money coming in for the restoration project.

Huber said the group would also like to encourage WBEJ Radio to once again do a weekend show from the theater, such as the one it did called ”The Barrel of Fun“ back in the 1950s.

Once the building has been restored, the plan is to present the performing arts center to the city of Elizabethton for maintenance and preservation.

The name Bonnie Kate has been one of the proudest names in Elizabethton since 1776, when legend has it she outraced Cherokee attackers and climbed over the stockade at Fort Watauga and into the arms of her future husband, John Sevier. Huber hopes the building that has proudly carried her name since 1926 will continue to do so for many more years.