The Transylvania Times -

Picturing The Past: Erle Stillwell Designed Local Movie Theaters


September 18, 2017

Courtesy Photo

These two similar shots show the Clemson and Co-Ed theaters 50 years apart - taken in 1991 and 1941.

Erle Stillwell built a successful architectural design agency in the early 1900s. However, like the businessmen he designed homes and businesses for, Stillwell struggled to stay in business following the stock market crash and throughout the Great Depression.

Stillwell had designed Hendersonville's Rex Theater in 1924 and he did the redesign work when it burned in 1932. Through this work he met Robert Wilby and Mike Kincey, who managed most of Paramount's southeastern movie theaters. This relationship would lead to work for additional theaters in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tenn-essee, Virginia and West Virginia. Most of his theater designs featured Art Deco facades, a few were Streamline Moderne, but all were uniquely Still-well's.

Although designs for Brevard's Co-Ed Theater are not included in the Henderson County Lib-rary collection, an article in the Dec. 8, 1938 Transylvania Times identifies Stillwell as the architect. The theater design featured 500 seats, plus a semi-balcony for groups or private parties. In addition there was a "cry room" where mothers could take disruptive children and continue to watch the movie. The Co-Ed featured an Art Deco sunburst front.

Undated drawings by Henry Gaines, one of Stillwell's partners with Six Associates, in the Pack Library collection in Ashe-ville appear to be for renovations to Brevard's Clemson Theater. A June 29, 1939 Transylvania Times' article covers the opening of the new Co-Ed and improvements to the Clemson.

A few years later, after new owners took over the Brevard theaters, Stillwell was hired to redesign the Clemson and Co-Ed into one large theater. A picture of his drawing for the building's exterior was found in the Aug. 22, 1946 Transylvania Times. This work was never undertaken though.

Courtesy Photo

Stillwell was able to keep and expand his business during and after the Depression by designing over 50 theaters in the 1930s and 1940s. He also got work through Roosevelt's New Deal projects for government buildings and schools. Next week's Picturing the Past will take a final look at Stillwell's work through the local schools he designed.

(Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. Visit the N.C. Room during regular library hours (Monday-Friday) to learn more about our history and see additional photographs. For more information, comments or suggestions contact Marcy at or (828) 884-1820.)


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