COLUMBIA — Buildings that housed a Coca-Cola bottling plant and a vintage movie theater are the first selections under a new program that recognizes downtown history.
Cornerstones of Columbia will be awarding plaques to the Varsity Theatre and the old bottling factory. The two buildings are better known as The Blue Note and a collection of three businesses on Hitt Street, including Ragtag Cinema, known as Hittsville.
Brent Gardner, creator of Cornerstones, sees recognizing downtown buildings as an interesting project for the city Historic Preservation Commission. He likened it to a more specialized version of the long-standing Most Notable Properties program that has a city-wide scope.
"It's a specific area, a centralized Most Notables, really," he said. "There's a lot of great stories about downtown businesses ... and those stories are the history of Columbia."
Gardner picked the two structures himself, since this is the first year of the program, but he expects the commission to come up with a nomination process in the future.
The Varsity Theatre was built on what had been the site of the Star theater in 1927. Tom C. Hill, who also owned the Hall Theater, was responsible for its construction. The building became the home of The Blue Note in 1990.
The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. plant at 10 Hitt St. was built in 1935. The plant moved to a bigger location in 1966, and the structure left behind became the home of Kelly Press until 2005. By 2008, the property housed Ragtag Cinema, Uprise Bakery and 9th Street Video. Since then, 9th Street Video has closed and Hitt Records has opened in its place.
Gardner described ideas for celebrating the two businesses when he attended a recent meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission. Although no plans have been set, he suggested several ideas for recognizing both structures in July.
The event for Hittsville would come first, featuring an unveiling of the plaque and a speech, followed by films from the days of the Varsity. Gardner also mentioned the possibility of Coca-Cola being invited to come and bring examples of older Coca-Cola bottles.
Afterward, The Blue Note's plaque would be unveiled. Gardner said plans for the event there could involve a band performing vaudeville or ragtime music.
He said the current businesses seemed eager to advertise on their own because the unveiling event would bring attention not only to them, but to the buildings' history, which is the true reason for all the celebration.
Central Bank, which Gardner said is the oldest banking institute in town, has agreed to sponsor two separate years of plaques, and will continue funding them if the program seems successful. He thinks Cornerstones will be held every other year.
Tracy Lane, executive director of Ragtag Cinema, said she thought Cornerstones was a good idea.
"It's always nice to give recognition to historic properties," she said. "I think this is a community that will really appreciate that."
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