The Murphy story began on a warm evening in late July of 1918 when Charles Webb Murphy opened his newly built theatre in his hometown of Wilmington. It was a grand theatre for a small town and its history reflects the ebb and flow of small town America. The theatre acted as the heart of downtown in those early days playing host to vaudeville, lectures, minstrel shows, movies, high school graduations, band concerts, plays and even church services.
In 1929, the theatre was leased to Chakeres Theaters who were making a name for themselves providing audiences the latest in film. They refurbished the theatre, removed some of the seating, covered the marble floor with carpet and installed modern equipment to handle “talkies”. Chakeres Theaters operated a successful movie house through the boom of the film industry until the advent of modern multiple screen theaters.
In 1985, the descendants of Charles Murphy decided to sell the theatre. A local group began the process of saving the theatre by selling stock options to fund the purchase and, in 1989, formed a not-for-profit organization whose purpose was to restore the theatre and ensure its use for years to come.
The Murphy Theatre is still a work in progress as many volunteers and supporters continue the work of protecting this magnificent building. Structural issues and deterioration of decorative elements are projects included in the Strategic Plan developed by the Board of Trustees. Through the financial and in-kind donations of our community members and businesses, we can address them over time.
The theatre remains a true community center providing a venue for touring performers, local theater productions, school events, performing arts education, business meetings and weddings. The Murphy Theatre’s mission is to continue to be a source of community pride, an example of perseverance, and an entertainment and cultural center for all.