ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Bonnie Kate Theater has one hell of a comeback story.

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

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

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

However, the theater ended up closing its doors.

“They were trying to have programs and if it rained there would be buckets here to catch the water where it was leaking,” said Restoration Board member Jeff Treadway.

The Bonnie Kate then fell into disrepair, with roof leaks and breakdowns. The theater was later seized before the East Tennessee Foundation purchased it in 2016.

“We wanted to emphasize that this is an event center rather than just a cinema because cinemas, unless you have a blockbuster movie, you won’t be able to not do it,” Huber said.

Restoration efforts have been largely funded by grants from organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission and programs like the Downtown Improvement Grant Program.

“What we’re doing on the outside will probably make it better than it has been since the 1950s,” construction manager Charles Laporte said. “What they’re going to do inside will make it, I would say, better than a decade or two after it first opened.”

The exterior facade and the exit doors will be restored as a priority.

“We have to install the right doors and the right hardware and we have to meet fire codes and building codes while also trying to meet historical expectations,” Laporte said.

Next, attention will turn to the auditorium itself.

“It will be cleaned up and instead of curtains there will be carpet panels on the wall, our original light fixtures that we had from the theater when it was built will go up the columns and the ceiling will be repainted and redecorated to its original greatness,” Huber said.

However, more funds will be needed to achieve long-term goals like moving the stage back, adding more seats and renovating the locker rooms.

“Thousands of people have memories from here, so they’re always interested when they come to the theater and often donate to us,” 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 in it, and then that value gets bigger and bigger as we’re able to fix it and run bigger and bigger events. “, said Laporte.

To find out how you can contribute to the effort to restore the historic theater, visit BonnieKate.org.

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