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2023 Award of Merit: Manteo

Updated: Apr 1

Pioneer Theater

2023 NC Main Street Award: Design

Best Facade Rehabilitation for More Than $15,000

  • Michael Basnight and Jamie Hatchell, Owners of the Pioneer Theater

  • Melissa Dickerson, Town Manager, Town of Manteo



The Pioneer Theater opened its doors in 1918 in downtown Manteo, and the theater was operated continuously by the Creef family until November 2022, making it the oldest family-owned small theater in the country. The owners made the difficult decision to close the theater in December 2022, and soon after, brother and sister, Michael Basnight and Jamie Hatchell and their families purchased the shuttered Pioneer Theater, located at 109 Budleigh Street. Through the Manteo Main Street Program, the new owners requested a facade design plan from the North Carolina Main Street and Rural Planning Center and their UNC Greensboro Main Street Fellows partners.


In accordance with the facade plan, restoration of the theater began in March 2023. The first step was to demolish the false Elizabethan style façade that was added in the 1970’s. As the wooden facade was carefully removed, the original blonde brick construction was uncovered.


The plan followed the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, and the brick exterior of the building was carefully cleaned by the gentlest means possible. The doors, canopy, and marquee were reconstructed to reflect the original art deco design, and the original ticket booth with the glass window displays and transoms, was repaired. The side of the building was also transformed from a vacant lot into an event space, and the original mural entitled “Fish Camp Mural” painted by artist, Vic Gillispie, was still present.


The facade restoration cost nearly $40,000, and the theater reopened in May 2023 creating 2 full-time jobs and 38 part-time jobs. Local businesses have reported a 50-75% increase in visitation since the theater reopened.


Thanks to the commitment of local owners and support from the local community, the Pioneer will continue to be the site for a first date, a first kiss, or a child’s first movie for years to come. In addition to movies, the theater now hosts live music, comedy shows and other events.




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