VIDEO: Renovations underway of Pioneer Theatre in downtown Manteo

VIDEO: Renovations underway of Pioneer Theatre in downtown Manteo

February 24th, 2023

Crews have begun renovations of the Pioneer Theatre in downtown Manteo, after it was purchased by a pair of local families earlier this month.

Workers have opened up the wooden Elizabethan-style façade to examine the original front of the brick theater on Budleigh Street, and it was hoped that some of the original Art Deco-design marquee remained.

The Town of Manteo posted a video of the work on their Facebook page on Friday morning.

The movie house has stood on Budleigh Street since 1934, after first being located on what is now Sir Walter Raleigh Street when it first opened in 1918, and has weathered everything from storms and floods to a pair of global pandemics.

Along with being the site of many an Outer Banks native’s first cinematic experience, it’s been the scene of multiple premieres and special screenings.

That includes the East Coast opening in 1957 of A Face In the Crowd starring Andy Griffith, the award-winning, history making Peanut Butter Falcon in 2019 that was co-written by Colington’s own Tyler Nilson, and last spring the debut of the documentary “Hines” that tells the life story of Jesse Hines, pro surfer turned Outer Banks fro-yo shop Surfin’ Spoon co-owner.

Andy Griffith at the marquee of the Pioneer Theatre in downtown Manteo ahead of the premiere of Face In The Crowd on July 16, 1957. [Aycock Brown Papers/Outer Banks History Center]

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down movie theaters across the country, the Creef family that has owned the Pioneer since its inception continued to crank out popcorn and drinks to take home.

Just after being allowed to reopen, the digital projector system broke down. At a cost of around $10,000, things looked hopeless for the Pioneer.

As has happened so often when adversity has struck, the Outer Banks-loving local and worldwide community stepped up to support one of our own, raising more than enough money to get the projector fixed and The Pioneer was back up and running in early 2021.

But after having a part of the projection system fail and repaired last August, that same part broke again in November and the screen has been dark ever since.

Then on December 13, the Creef family announced on The Pioneer Theatre’s Facebook page that they would not be reopening.

Just like any great film, the curtain came down on the second act, with the possibility that it would never be raised again. And then along comes a hero and the happy ending in the final act.

Those heroes are the Basnight and Hatchell families, who closed on the purchase of The Pioneer Theatre from the Creefs on February 14 for $500,000.

Managing partner of the group is Michael Basnight, who returned to the Outer Banks last summer after three-decades, and says they will bring back the Pioneer with mostly movies, but other events such as live music are possible.

So for now, we’ll watch all the work being done to bring this classic back, and await the return of “Peace, Love, and Popcorn”.

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