Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Summerville's Rich Theater History-From Silent Movies To Live Theater

I had curiously wondered about the unimposing James F. Dean Theatre since moving to Summerville eight years ago. Back in Ohio, I had become a theater lover over the years and was a passionate patron of Cleveland's vibrant Playhouse Square--the country’s largest performing arts center drawing more than a million people annually to its eight performance venues, topped only by New York City's Lincoln Center.

It was a Third Thursday and my curiosity was about to get the best of me, heightened even more by the fact the opening performance of "Wait Until Dark" was soon to take place. I entered the unpretentious theater door and was more than pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Summerville's theater history dates back to the early 1900's with the beginning of the silent movie era -- 1894 to 1929. The silent movie credited with being the first of the narrative films was directed and photographed by Edwin S. Porter, a former Edison Studios cameraman. The Great Train Robbery, a 12-minute-long silent film, was released in 1903. The short movie established the notion that film could be a commercially viable medium and inspired the need to construct the permanent movie house. Summerville was one of those places.

The Summerville Amusement Company was the town's first motion picture theater. A key organizer of the theater was a Summerville resident by the name of Henry C. F. Peters, owner of the Summerville Tea Pot in 1905 and father of Albert Peters, one of Summerville's early mayors.

A 1920's photo and 1923 map of Town Square corroborates the existence of a ornate, triple-arched facade with the words Arcade Theatre engraved on it. The facade housed a long, arcade walkway that led to a 250-seat capacity building where silent films complete with violin and piano accompaniment were viewed. Under the middle arch, the entrance to the walkway was marked by a ticket booth with shops on each side under the adjacent arches. In 1924, the theater was mentioned in an article from the Summerville Journal. With these dates in mind, it is safe to say a theater was built somewhere between 1903 and 1924, located behind where Treasure Box Collections, Edible Arrangements, and Karate are today.

Around the early 1930's, Summerville went through a major reconstruction. The facade and many of the buildings in the east block adjacent to the Square were demolished. It is difficult to say whether the large, wooden building that housed the Arcade Theatre was among them. A photograph documenting the demolition doesn't show the area where the building stood, a parking lot today. Nonetheless, the Arcade Theater, in similar fashion as the old train station and the Pine Forest Inn, tacitly faded from the scene.

Between 1930 and 1935, the Legendre's, operators and owners of a string of Southern theaters with headquarters in Summerville, built a theater on the corner of South Main and E. Richardson. Morris Legendre, head of the chain, was a partner with his brother Sidney Legendre. Sidney owned a house near Golf Rd on South Main Street.

Shortly after exploring Abyssinia for the American Museum of Natural History as part of the Sanford-Legendre Abyssinia Expedition in 1929, Sidney married the expedition's co-leader Gertrude Sanford. Gertrude once said, "I don't contemplate life. I live it," and she did, but that is another story. Many of the big-game heads she collected from 1923 to 1929 travelling the world as a big-game hunter in South Africa, Canada, and Alaska lined the auditorium walls of the new theater. The Legendre's amassed a 6,695 acre estate called Medway Plantation located in Mount Holly within Berkeley County. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The brick theater prospered into the late fifties, until the winds of change blew in the form of wide-screens and the advent of television stole away patronage and necessary revenue to maintain a vibrant theater. By the early sixties, "The Show" was gone with the wind. The doors were closed and cobwebs filled the seats.

In 1976, a group of theater enthusiasts formed the Flowertown Players and rescued the theater with a new vision. The projector and spinning movie reels were replaced with colorful sets and live actors. For the next seven years, the group produced four to five shows a year with all the proceeds used to nurture the ailing building. Their valiant efforts could not stave off the unrelenting deterioration of the aging structure. It eventually was considered unsafe for public assembly and the Flowertown players were forced to leave the building, but it was not abandoned.

In due course, by way of a public referendum, the town of Summerville sold the old building to the Flowertown Players and new life was infused into its walls by way of private capital. Laughter and applause have since filled the James F. Dean Theatre.

In 2013, plans were drawn up to replace the theater's marquee and return it to the original design.

The old marquee was removed. The new marquee was constructed and completed in 2014.

So, whether you are a resident or a visitor, take the time to check out your hometown theater on The Square and schedule a night out. Its hard working staff and local group of actors are dedicated to presenting you their best in the way of live theater.

Monday, September 16, 2013

My Favorite Drink Is A Summerville Festival Celebrating An Honorary Title-Sweet Tea Festival

I have been partaking of the sweet southern brew called sweet tea since I arrived in Summerville eight years ago in 2005, but it wasn't until the Spring of 2010 Summervillians were encouraged by Will Rizzo of Azalea Magazine to take ownership of the honorable title proclaiming our beautiful town as the "Birthplace of Sweet Tea."

I cannot recall the exact place I first ordered it, but Bubba Gumps in Charleston is a likely candidate. Regardless, just ask any of my close friends, it is my preferred choice of beverage everywhere I relax to refresh myself with a cool drink. And based on the presented facts, I proudly share ownership of the motion declaring Summerville the "Birthplace of Sweet Tea."

To be honest, I was an ice tea drinker back in Ohio, but it was always served non-sweetened at all the establishments. Upon arrival to your table, you would have to sweeten it yourself, which meant manually tearing open the little packets of sugar provided, pouring its contents into the glass and stirring it to dissolve the tiny granules. Then, repeating the annoying process over and over until it was somewhat sweetened to desired taste. It wasn't easy because the granules would either stick to the ice or sink to the bottom in a swirl. So, it was a Southern simple pleasure drinking sweet tea.

Since the declaration, Summerville has enthusiastically embraced its discovered destiny that laid hidden in the oolong tea leaves all these past years. To celebrate the story, Summerville has established a Sweet Tea Trail where you can savor the history, the hospitality, and the heritage.

The trail begins at Exit 199 off of I-26. You travel down N. Main Street past Azalea Square, historic downtown Summerville, some historic homes, and the gardens of Azalea Park, after which you head down Trolley Road to Dorchester Road and Colonial Dorchester State Historic Park. From there, the trail takes you down 165 turning left onto historic 61 past Middleton Place(site of Middleton Barony and Pinehurst Tea Plantation established by Dr. Charles Shepard and the oolong tea), Magnolia Plantation, Drayton Hall, and then to Charleston Tea Plantation, the home of American Classic Tea and the site where salvaged tea plants from Pinehurst Tea Plantation were planted after it was abandoned.

To further celebrate Summerville's exclusive place in history, the Sweet Tea Festival was established. This Thursday, September 19, 2013, the Summerville Restaurant Association will be holding the 2nd annual festival. Area restaurants will be offering tastes of their versions of sweet tea as well as tastes of their menu specialties. For $5, commemorative mugs will be available to purchase along with an unlimited taste of all of the teas. In my humble opinion, although an experienced one, This Whole House had the best tasting sweet brew last year.

Summerville Dream and Jan Shoemake Hursey have been working tirelessly to make this Third Thursday the best festival yet. The unveiling of the newest B.I.R.D.S. statue at 6:30 pm in front of Single Smile will take place. The Busker band, Summerville's local crowd favorite, will be in Hutchinson Square from 5:30-8:00 pm with plenty of room to dance.

Last year's crowd at the Sweet Tea Festival
Azalea Magazine will have a booth in the Square. Be sure to thank them for their diligence and dedication in sweetening our local history, for stepping out on the thick limb of audaciousness and proclaim Summerville the "Birthplace of Sweet Tea." No challenges have surfaced thus far, and who would dare. It's not even worth contesting for all the tea in China.

Now, I am going to step out on a pretty thick limb and say it. The more sweet tea you drink from now to Thursday, the less likely there will be rain. So, drink up and cheers to you all.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Winning Choice For Charleston Restaurant Week-Sermet's Corner Downtown On King Street

From the 3 for 30 offerings found on Charleston Restaurant Week's list of participating restaurants, I narrowed my choices down to two restaurants-downtown dining establishments I had on my cuisine radar since the last event and both located on eclectic and bustling King Street. It wasn't easy arriving at the definitive decision-both have good reputations reinforced by good reviews. The tipping point was the deliciously descriptive menu offerings of Sermet's Corner.

Now, finding a convenient parking spot was the next decision. The traffic goes in only one direction on this part of historic King Street. Something you have to keep in mind when traveling to this part of Charleston. A missed opportunity could mean circling back for another pass or a longer walk. I can happily report, a convenient one was successfully acquired.

Sermet's Corner is appropriately named, seeing it is located at the corner of King and Wentworth Streets. Two large, wood-glass doors marked its entrance. Large windows on each side of the doors were adorned by dark-colored, plush looking awnings. Inside, a newly renovated dining area with a well balanced mixture of brick and wood welcomed you. The space was small, but surprisingly uncluttered. White pillars and table appointments lent to a clean, bright atmosphere-red roses on the tables gave the settings a splash of color. Paintings were hung between the windows that lined the exterior walls.

We were seated at a table in the front corner with an panoramic view of King Street. As it turned out, an excellent place to people watch while sipping on opening drinks after menu selections were addressed-a menu consisting of a choice between two starters, three entrees, and a desert offering of tiramisu and tiramisu(A full, elegant looking menu was available if you didn't want to be limited to the 3 for 30 offerings).

For a starter, I chose the Roasted Tomato and Mushroom Soup topped with Parmesan. It was drizzled with olive oil and I will simply say it was fantastic. My friend chose the House made mozzarella and pesto with sliced tomatoes over mixed baby greens drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Afterwards, my friend said the amount of balsamic vinegar used was ideal, not too much and not too little.

From the entrees I selected the Pan Seared Scallops over Lobster Ravioli in a Saffron-Vanilla Sauce topped with shaved Fennel and Orange and my friend chose the Chicken sauteed with Smoked Bacon, Mushrooms and Granny Smith Apples in a Marsala Parmesan Cream Sauce over Butternut Squash Ravioli-doesn't the entree descriptions just make your mouth water. My only complaint, and it is minor in comparison to my complete satisfaction in the scallops and sauce, the Lobster Ravioli could have been a tad warmer. As for the chicken sauteed with smoked bacon, it is a popular choice among Sermet's customers.

The generous portion of tiramisu was a sweet conclusion to the affair. It oozed with Drambuie. It was like consuming a dish of happiness.

Finally, our server was exceptional. He was attentive to our requests and kept the sweet tea and wine glasses full-I love sweet tea. He kept the table clean and delivered the food in an orderly fashion. He was also patient enough to take the time to answer the barrage of questions I am famous for. I give Paul top marks for the evening.

To be honest, I am not a professional food critic or connoisseur, and I do not generally eat so elegantly. My everyday tastes are quite simple. That being said, it is also why all of this is so great from my perspective. For an evening, I self indulge in cultural decadence and unrestrained gratification. I, for the brief moment , live the life of a Charlestonian.

Thank you Sermet's for a very gratifying dining experience.
276 King Street, Charleston, SC

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Love Charleston And The Water-Thriller Charleston Combines The Two With Its Fun And Unique Venue Offering

I paid the $35 and boarded the long, sleek, yellow boat, followed by the captain and the narrator. The rear seats were already filled with ticket holders, so I sat about three seats back from the captain. Fair warning was given to those sitting in the back. "You will get wet," Captain Trip stated enthusiastically. He offered them an opportunity to move closer to the front. Nobody was bothered by the warning and stayed put.

I facetiously tested the resolve of the captain's warning, "If I don't get wet, can I get a refund?" He tested my resolve. "I am willing to make a wager with you, you will get wet." I remained silent concerning the wager.

The narrator proceeded with the necessary pre tour instructions. "If your are pregnant, have a bad back, neck or heart problems, or a serious medical condition..." and with a big smile she added, "...or a bad attitude, you must leave the boat at this time." She offered life jackets and concluded, "Let's have some fun," then took her seat. The captain started the engines, turned on the music and backed out of the covered dock on Shem Creek. As it turned out, I was happy I didn't take that wager. I did get wet, and that was part of the fun.

It was Labor day. It was hot, there was a strong, southwest wind, and the ocean was choppy, perfect weather conditions for a wet and wild ride on the Thriller Charleston, Charleston's high speed tour boat. Once we exited the no wake zone of Shem Creek, the captain boosted the throttle and the narration began. It was an informative mix of history and points of interest, beginning with the story of Charleston's beginnings.

The boat cruised up the Cooper River, passed under the Ravenel Bridge, took a high speed sharp turn and sped along the Charleston waterfront and E. Battery Street. We passed White Point Gardens and sped up the Ashley River along Murray Blvd.

On the Ashley, it made another high speed sharp turn, cruised the coastline of James Island and the fortress made famous by the Civil War, Fort Sumter. Leaving the harbor, we passed the jetties and entered the open ocean. Morris Island Lighthouse was now in our sights.

It was full throttle up the Morris Island coast. After we circled the lighthouse, the real fun began. As the speeding boat hit the rough waves of the Atlantic, the clash would send a salty spray into the air and the wind would carry it over the side, covering the occupants. We spent a considerable amount of time bouncing in the wind agitated waters of the ocean, sometimes becoming airborne, which solicited a fair amount of "ooohs" and "aaahs" from the water-soaked, happy occupants.

On the way back into Charleston Harbor, we were told the story of the Hunley, cruised passed Sullivan's Island and Fort Moultrie, viewed the shoreline of Mt. Pleasant and returned to Shem Creek. My shirt was soaking wet, my face was spattered with salty water and I was thoroughly pleased with my one hour, 30 mile adventure tour on the Thriller, which whisked us past 2 lighthouses, 5 forts, the panorama of Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic coastline around Morris Island.

Of course, some people may not like the idea of getting wet, or being bounced around at high speed, but that option depends on the weather. Pick a day with little to no wind and the ride will be smooth and dry. Otherwise, when the captain says, "You will get wet," just believe it. It was also suggested you wear sunglasses or goggles to keep the salty water out of your eyes, which I didn't have. I lost my sunglasses on my last SUP excursion, but that is another story.

The boat ride offers a different and unique venue from which to see Charleston at a quick glance and once again learn about its colorful history, a story that is told in detail many times over through the numerous popular tours Charleston is famous for on the dry peninsula.

The Thriller Charleston is owned by Barbara and Mark Fox. Mark hands out the tickets and Barbara does the narrations. The dock is located on beautiful Shem Creek, in front of Vickery's Bar and Grill. Just turn off of Coleman Blvd onto Shrimp Boat Lane.