When the Ritz opened in Newberry on October 16, 1936, The Newberry Observer ran a special feature section describing the theater in great detail calling it “A modern house of entertainment.” Plans were altered at the last moment in order to install a newly developed sound system. The article stated that the Ritz was the first theater south of Washington to have the new system called “Microphonic Sound.”
The article described the air conditioning system, seats, curtains as well as the soda shop, managed by Ellerbe Sease, and the Southern Auto Store that would occupy the spaces on either side of the theater entrance.
The marquee was described as having chromium bands, neon tubes and many electric bulbs. “The sign can be easily seen and read for several blocks in either direction.”
The seating capacity was 800. The auditorium was 44 feet wide, 90 feet long and 25 feet high. The stage was 18 feet deep, 25 feet wide and 72 feet high. Materials listed included 47 solid car loads of Newberry county granite, 63 tons of steel girders and trusses, two and three-fourth miles of conduit, and 535 light bulbs.
The Ritz was entirely fireproof with six emergency exits. The projection booth had no wood or other flammable materials used in its construction. This was of great concern at the time, especially because the nitrate films that were shown were extremely flammable. The projection room at the Ritz still has the heavy metal plated doors that can be closed to prevent fire and smoke from entering the auditorium.
At the time of its opening, the Ritz had Mrs. C. H. Albrecht as president and treasurer; Mr. Theo Albrecht, vice president and secretary; Mrs. Darby and N. C. Wilson, cashiers; Bill Darby, assistant manager; and Lewis Waddell, projectionist.
Like so many other single-screen downtown movie theaters, the Ritz eventually closed its doors. Those doors reopened to enthusiastic audiences when the Newberry Community Players purchased the building as their permanent home in 1974. Keeping the building safe, clean and ready for stage productions consumes most of the resources of this all-volunteer, nonprofit group. Their current fund-raising campaign is focused on raising the large additional funds needed to restore the Ritz to its former Art Deco appearance.