The Riviera Theater has remained a landmark building on lower King Street for years, welcoming visitors to utilize its renovated interior daily and lighting up the corner of King Street and Meeting Street nightly. Just like every building in the historic Holy City, the iconic Art Deco-style structure tells a unique story of its own. Before it housed business conventions, weddings and events, the venue served multiple purposes since its opening in January of 1939; from its beginning as one of Charleston’s first movie theaters to housing a Baptist Fellowship and a variety of business ventures in between.
At the time of its opening, the Riviera Theater was one of the most highly regarded auditoriums, complete with modern architecture and the latest projection equipment. Although it saw its fair share of success as one of only two theaters in downtown Charleston, the theater closed its doors in 1977 due to the rising popularity of television and the increasing construction of movie theatres in nearby suburbs.
Following its close as a theater, the building was then transformed into a church, housing a Community Baptist Fellowship for a short two years until the lease expired. The Riviera stood vacant again until 1983, when it opened briefly as a motion picture house featuring foreign and classic films. It closed again the following November and various plans were drafted for the space for several years.
When a group of developers were given preliminary approval by Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review to renovate the historic theater into a retail space, local neighbors were not particularly in agreement with the plans. Interest groups were formed and petitions were drafted to preserve the building’s architecture and history, which ultimately led to the purchasing of the theater by Charleston Place in 1993.
After a hefty four million dollar renovation by Charleston Place, the historic theater opened its doors on May 15th, 1997 as a conference center and event space. During the renovation, more than 90 percent of the original interior was preserved and other aspects were renovated to closely resemble the Art Deco design constructed by skilled architect Charles C. Benton in 1939. The interior decor also stays true to the Art Deco-style, from the intricate hand-painted crown molding to the original flexwood walls and the beautiful murals that adorn them. The marquee on the building’s exterior was also fully restored in the renovation process, containing 16,000 lights.
Today, the theater significantly resembles the charming, single-screen auditorium that King Street once knew, honoring the history of the building and the memories that were created there while continuing to serve the Charleston community. For more information regarding the the remarkable venue and its amenities, visit our website.