Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of Marlboro County’s greatest treasures lies hidden right amongst us, as it has for nearly a century, with many citizens passing by on a regular basis without giving a thought to either its history or many current-day uses.
So goes the day-to-day story of the Marlboro Civic Center. But dig a little deeper and one will find a structure that has both served Marlboro residents needs and offered entertaining or educational opportunities that otherwise would have simply been unavailable without it.
And what a history it has. Originally constructed and opened as The Garden Theatre in 1917, the opera house was considered one of the best in the region and among the finest in South Carolina. The Garden operated for many years as a silent movie theater, then, with the advances in cinematic technology, switched over to the new-fangled motion pictures, under the new name of the Carolina Theater, then later as the Cinema, which it continued as until declining ticket sales led to it’s being closed down in the late 80’s.
Disappointed and concerned about the possible loss of such a historic and important structure, and its impact on the lives of Marlboro residents, a coalition of local governments, business and industrial concerns, civic organizations, as well as private foundation and local residents joined together to create the Marlboro Civic Center, bringing us the structure we have today, which is a source of pride and the cultural heart of our community. Since its grand opening in November 1995, the Civic Center boasts the 320-seat Frances Carroll McColl Auditorium, a 40’ x 45’ stage suitable for a wide variety of theatrical, dance and musical productions, a nine-foot concert Steinway grand piano and 15-person orchestra pit, in addition to fully-equipped class rooms and dressing rooms and state-of-the-art theatrical lights and sound, all offered in a building with outstanding acoustics.
And what a variety of performances we have been able to enjoy as a community thanks to the revitalization of the old theater, including Russia’s Saint Petersburg Ballet and musical acts such as Doc Watson, The Platters, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and, earlier this year, Grand Ole Opry member Clint Black, who has sold more than 20 million albums over the course of his 25-year career. In addition to the entertainment it has allowed us to enjoy, which includes community theater productions, scholastic concerts, recitals, pageants, and demonstrations or lectures, as well as seasonal offerings, the Civic Center also provides a place to hold a wide variety of local-based events or activities, including town and community meetings or political rallies.
But operating the Civic Center, which sees use nearly 200 days per year, is not easy, nor cheap, and operational funding or obtaining the dollars needed to upgrade the facility is always a concern. To that end, the Civic Center has once again this year joined hands with the Eastern Carolina Community Foundation to participate in the “Big Give Pee Dee” fundraising effort, a local 24-hour online giving challenge which takes place on May 3. Last year, more than $75,000 in donations and cash prizes was raised for Pee Dee nonprofits during the 24-hour giving cycle. Adopting the motto, “Anyone can be a philanthropist,” the group has asked everyone to make a donation to help support community-based organizations throughout the Pee Dee region in the hope of making 2016 even more successful.
Locally, the Marlboro Civic Center Foundation, the only Marlboro organization participating in the “Big Give” is hoping to boost donations by incorporating the game of chance, PLINKO, into their 20th anniversary celebration efforts. Citizens are asked to stop by the Civic Center between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. to make an online donation and get a chance to play PLINKO, with lots of cool prizes offered to lucky winners. Donations may also be made from your home by visiting biggivepeedee.org.
So, here’s your chance to help make the future of Marlboro County even brighter, and assist the Civic Center in its mission to be a “public, cultural, educational, and recreational center open to all segments of the community with a special emphasis on events that encourage and support artistic, literary, and educational purposes.” The Foundation exists solely “to improve the quality of life and promote unity and harmonious interaction between the various segments in this rural, multi-racial community.”
And we need your help, so be a part of making a better Marlboro County. Every dollar matters more than you know.
For additional information regarding the Marlboro Civic Center or this years “Big Give Pee Dee,” please contact Executive Director Karen Lewis or office manager Lynne Covington at 843-454-9496.