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Restoration of the historic Bonnie Kate Theater in downtown Elizabethton | WJHL

ELIZABETHTON, Tennessee (WJHL) – The Bonnie Kate Theater has quite the comeback history.

The historic auditorium in downtown Elizabethton opened as a movie theater in 1926.

“It had 500 seats, which was the largest seating capacity anywhere,” said John Huber, chairman of the theater’s restoration committee.

Over the years, the Bonnie Kate has hosted talent shows, war fundraisers, and church services.

However, the theater eventually closed its doors.

“They tried to have a few programs, and if it happened to be a rainy day, they’d have buckets out here to catch the water where it came out,” said Jeff Treadway, a member of the restoration committee.

The Bonnie Kate then fell into disrepair with roof leaks and failures. The theater then went into foreclosure before the East Tennessee Foundation bought it in 2016.

“We wanted to increase the focus to say that it’s an events center and not just a cinema because cinemas, unless you have a blockbuster movie, you’re not going to be able to pull it off,” said Huber.

Restoration efforts have been funded largely through grants from agencies such as the Appalachian Regional Commission and programs such as the Downtown Improvement Grant Program.

“What we’re doing on the outside will probably do better than it has since the ’50s,” said site manager Charles Laporte. “What they’re going to do inside, I’d say, will do better than a decade or two after it first opened.”

First, the exterior facade and the exit doors will be restored.

“We need to put in the right doors and hardware, and we need to comply with fire codes and building codes while also trying to meet historical expectations,” Laporte said.

Then the attention turns to the auditorium itself.

“It will be tidied up and instead of curtains there will be carpet panels on the wall, our original lighting fixtures that we have from the theater when it was built will be put back on the pillars and the ceiling will be repainted and redecorated to its original Great,” said Huber.

However, more funding is needed to meet long-term goals like moving the stage back, adding more seating and dressing room overhauls.

“Thousands of people have memories from here, so when they come to the theater they’re always interested, and often they give us a donation,” Treadway said.

But in the meantime, the Bonnie Kate will continue to host plays, musicians and events.

“The community is able to use it and see the value of it, and then that value just gets bigger and bigger as we’re able to fix it and have more and more varied and bigger events,” he said Laporte.

To learn how you can help with the restoration of the historic theater, visit


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