The Sottile Theatre, originally named the Gloria Theatre, was built by Albert Sottile, President of the Pastime Amusement Company, with construction commencing in 1922. Doors opened on Aug. 20, 1927 with a screening of Norma Shearer's After Midnight. Originally fitted with 2,000 seats, the Gloria Theatre was the largest of its kind in South Carolina.
The theatre served as both a vaudeville house and movie theatre and was designed as a smaller version of the great movie palaces of the era. The South Carolina premiere of Gone with the Wind, which highlighted Charleston's charm and grace, was held at the theatre with most of the original cast on site for the occasion.
Until closing its doors in 1975, the Sottile Theatre served primarily as a movie house. The building was subsequently donated to the College of Charleston by the Sottile family and the Pastime Amusement Company.
In 1986, College of Charleston President Dr. Harry M. Lightsey Jr., began refurbishing the theatre. The Sottile Theatre reopened in February 1990. The renovations preserved many of the unique features of the original facility and added considerable new space. A modern heating and air conditioning system was added and the stage was expanded by the construction of a 12-foot apron. In addition, the original orchestra pit was enlarged to accommodate more complex musical productions. Finally, a large, two-story wing was added to the building to provide expanded dressing rooms and scenery storage.
As the College of Charleston made improvements to the Sottile Theatre in early 2011, it discovered two large-scale murals hiding beneath acoustic tiles. Painted on canvas by Italian artists from New York City during the theatre's construction in the 1920s, one scene depicts a centaur and nymphs before a forested and mountainous background. The other shows Classical figures celebrating music and drama before a blue-green sea. The murals were unveiled in 1927 during the theatre's grand opening.
The College of Charleston has started to restore these masterpieces, already removing one mural for safekeeping and repair. The other mural has been uncovered and left hanging, its blemishes, damage and deterioration on display to theatre patrons, including the audiences of Spoleto Festival USA. Much of the restoration work will involve remediation of the many spots of glue used to attach acoustic tiles to the murals decades ago.
The College is seeking partners and benefactors who appreciate the unique beauty of these murals and would like to contribute to their restoration. If you have questions or would like more information about this historic restoration project, please call the Sottile Theatre at 843-953-6340 or email SottileTheatre@cofc.edu
Today, the main auditorium still features a shimmering, blue, sky-like dome with twinkling stars created from lights above. Side archways are covered with ornamental ironwork and the original domed ceiling is surrounded by a plaster oculus. The stage is framed by a proscenium trimmed with molding. The lobbies were completely renovated and a new second floor lobby was constructed to serve the balconies. The second floor plaza opens onto a covered porch that overlooks George Street.
The Sottile Theatre hosts a wide variety of events in the performing arts, serving as the site of College of Charleston performances and programs, as well as many community-oriented and privately sponsored events.