Revamped, Dock Street Theatre poised to open freshly-painted doors

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - It may have taken three years of planning and remodeling and a construction bill totaling $20 million dollars, but the site of the oldest theatre in the U.S. has been made over and is ready to open its doors.

The Dock Street Theatre in downtown Charleston has improved lighting, new padded seats and sound-blocking windows.

Architect Joe Schmidt spent three years planning changed and making improvements at the theatre.

"We feel very confident that we've done everything we can and still made the building look like it originally looked," said Schmidt.

However, behind the authentic renovations lie state-of-the-art safety systems. In fact, a lot of the makeover money went into safety improvements around the facility, many of which most visitors to Dock Street won't see. There's a hidden sprinkler system, taller guard rails and the entire building is more wind resistant in the event of a hurricane. Anchors were built into the roof and steel rods were installed into columns to stabilize the structure in the event of an earthquake.

"Windows will shatter. Cracks will develop. The goal was to make this building withstand it so it's preserved and can be restored after a major earthquake. Minor earthquake? No problem," said Schmidt.

The remodeled theatre also has increased handicap accessibility.

"They had virtually access to no space. They would come in a back way and sit in the back of the theatre, and they couldn't get upstairs. They couldn't get up to the ballroom, the reception areas. None of that was possible. Now it all is," said Schmidt.

The project wasn't about replacing old with new, though, said Schmidt.

The building's original tiles line the entryway. Builders kept as many of the uncracked tiles as possible and only added new ones where necessary. They said keeping original pieces of the historic building was one of the most important parts of the restoration.

Other historic touches grace different parts of the theatre, as well. Chairs in the theatre's sex dressing rooms came from the balcony. Woodwork around the doors came from other historic buildings.

"Everything that should have been done I believe has been done. It's in great shape. It will be another 100 years before they have to worry," said Schmidt.

The site began as a theatre in the 1700s, was transformed into the Planters Hotel at the turn of the 19th century and was then converted back into a theatre in the 1930s.

The City of Charleston paid for the renovations with grant money and the area's hospitality tax. It will host the grand re-opening of the theatre next Thursday at 7 p.m. The event is open to the public.