FEATURE: Shelby, NC, the Roger’s Theater, and why it’s worth the traffic hassles.

Today was spent in Shelby, North Carolina, a small to medium city located in WNC. What can I say about Shelby?

Well if you have an appointment there leave two hours early. The road system there is among the strangest in the ‘verse. Roads will oftimes run literally parallel with a four lane running next to a two line so that down the same path so that those in the four lane northbound pass literally inches from those on the southbound of the two lane. Imminent collision seems inevitable until you realize what’s going on. 

Road signs are not popular in Shelby, and neither are street numbers or formal place names. In fact, during my quest today the only place everyone could agree on as being in a geographically set location was the only one I knew how to get to…the hospital. 

The main strip – a four lane drag is 74/74 business/74 bypass/108 S all at the same time. Locals call it the drag, the strip, th main road, and the big road. After that forget it. I asked ten people for directions today to a street in downtown Shelby and received three blank stares (Uh…Washington St?) one set of very complex directions full of rights, lefts, churches, and water towers, and six responses to the effect of “ Well, you could go [directions] but maybe you best go [different directions]. What do you think, Shirl?” at which point the process repeats.

I finally bought a map in the Walgreen’s across from the hospital where a handsome and intelligent black gentleman gave me pinpoint precise directions. He was not from Shelby. He asked me not to tell where he was from. Thanks again, guy. 

But what else can I say about the region? Because once you get there it’s delightful.

It has one of the best hospitals in the state – I spent a lot of time there so I know first hand. Excellent mental health care network. Good employment rate. Lot of factories and mills…and some truly glorious architecture. I saw house ranging from New England Salt box to gingerbreaded Victorian as well as some nice Georgian and Edwardian pieces. Eve a few unusual twists on early Pyramidal and Mediterranean. 

But surprisingly, the coolest thing to me is that there is a thriving Arts and Music Scene and that there is also a hugely successful historic preservation group. As a writer and as an architecture buff, I found many things worth my while in Shelby. Houses, churches, and even private residences but for now I will focus on just one of them, tho, with more later for my fellow architectural tour buffs. 

At the confluence of high art and high historical ideals, I actually met one of the interesting people who feels that culture is an invaluable gift to children, students and to the people of his community instead of an onerous task best left to mouldering textbooks.

This individual in the person of a handsome younger man in suit coat and highly polished leather buckle boots was a Mr. Gary Kulas, a very interesting and possibly slightly eccentric (in a good way) man who dreams are large enough for outsiders to come and visit. 

Mr. Kulas’s latest project is the restoration of the intriguing Roger’s Theater in downtown Shelby.

This is a brave move and definitely an intriguing one in this day when the arts are near decease. 

The Rogers Theater, currently being restored to it’s former 1936 art deco grandeur, is located at 213 East Marion Street across from a goodly sized church. Mr. Kulas and crew are usually to be found there and are willing to offer tours and explanations to the curious and the socially conscious alike. 

I did a brief tour today in the company of the Lost Playwrights Society of WNC – all of which are just drooling to see one of their plays preformed in this soon to be available venue. 

The space is a large and interesting one and will in futurity harbor a luxurious and unique three hundred plus seating performance art center and banquet room of an elegance rarely seen in the more modern age. 

The main downstairs room is slated to see performances of live theater, dinner theater, cabaret, comedy, live music and other samplings of the local and international Arts community whereas the upstairs area is to become a full service one hundred and ten seat fine dining venue in what was once the playhouse’s balcony.

I can see that these are indeed not impossible goals. The building is spacious, live and airy and still quite full of the original late thirties energies that made it pop. It is a comfortably shaped hall with high ceilings and nice proportions and once fully modernized (soon to be handicap-equipped) it will be a luxurious one in an Ayn Rand-ish Art Deco Style. 

I will be posting some pictures of the current stage in restorations at my Facebook link and you can read all about the process and the dream of Mr. Kulas at their website www.rogerstheatershelby.com.

You will also find ways that you can help out on their page, and lend your name to the increasingly important Shelby arts scene and to the community at large.

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