Asheville’s "Fine" Arts Theatre

Recently I went to see a movie at the Fine Arts Theatre. Right before the movie began, an old black-and-white photo of the theater flashed up on the screen. The marquee on the building posted the two features of the time: Sassy Sue and Three in a Waterbed. You see, as I have come to find out, the Fine Arts used to be the Plaza Theater, a porn hall (euphemistically referred to as an adult movie house) from the years 1922-1985, until it was finally shut down because of an obscenity law.

Apparently not only do the owners/managers of the Fine Arts want us to nostalgically remember the history of this theater as a home to pornography, they proudly embrace it as a way to currently celebrate the theater to its patrons. Despite the specious claims proponents sometimes make that pornography is an issue of free speech, its systemic and intentional exploitation and endangerment of women for financial profit repudiate any pretense of "art" — fine or otherwise.

And yet there seems to be something casually acceptable here in making the connection through time to the Plaza Theater and its XXX smut (aka misogynist) films. I don’t think the owners of the Fine Arts would be as casual advertising titles from the past that are racist. There seems to be something more ‘acceptably’ humorous to them about sexism. (And of course we know that all the “isms” — like sexism, racism, classism, ageism, etc. — intersect, and most often porn is racist as well as sexist.).

The bottom line, though, is none of this is funny. I write this to inform all of you who patronize this local business and urge you to withdraw your support of its past and present misogyny.

— Lisa Garrett

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11 thoughts on “Asheville’s "Fine" Arts Theatre

  1. NFB

    You need to get your facts straight before you complain. The Fine Arts was NEVER known as the Plaza Theater. The Plaza Theater was a first run movie theater located up the street where Pack Plaza is now and the Fine Arts was nonexistent in any form in 1922 and was not a porn theater until the 1960’s.

    The history of the Fine Arts is well known in town and the letter writer didn’t find out until she went to a movie there?

  2. Sandy Tate

    I agree completely with Lisa Garrett’s fine letter. Pornography exists for the purpose of denigrating women, no other reason. To display the old marquee as if it were a history to be proud of is pure woman-hating. As far as I’m concerned, keeping alive the memory of the torment, rape and fetishism of women perpetuates the rape culture that promotes males as superior and females as inferior. It isn’t cute and it isn’t funny.

  3. Stuart Greene

    Lisa, although I can see your passion in your letter, you would do well to learn how to fact check. The Plaza, which was located on Pack Square and the Fine Arts Theater are two separate theaters. I remember going to animated Disney movies at the Plaza when I was a kid, with my parents. The Fine Arts was named exactly that when it was a porn theater. I can still remember the days when one checked the Asheville Citizen (the Times was the afternoon paper) for movie listings. Back then, the Innsbrook Mall Theater, The Mall Theater, The Plaza, The Merrimon Twin (now Asheville Pizza and Brewing), the Asheville West, and the Biltmore Twin were all the theaters in Asheville. Perhaps the next time you get on your soap box, you will make sure that you ask someone who actually knows Asheville history, instead of maligning a much-loved Asheville landmark by portraying it as what the Fine Arts Theater was, a sleazy porn theater in a dilapidated section of town.

  4. NFB

    Denigrating women (men too in many cases) is often the result of pornography but to say this is the “purpose” of its existence seems a bit of a stretch.

  5. Carol Vare

    I moved to Asheville in 1996 and have patronized the Fine Arts Theater since. I have watched too many movies there to count, but I have often left the theater with a new perspective on many social issues past and present. Recently, I have befriended a native Ashevillian, and invited her to the movies at the Fine Arts Theater. She was able to re-construct for me the layout of “uptown” and told me about the XXX theater from her childhood. She and I were surprised and glad to see the black & white photos of the old XXX theater. I am a feminist. I am not racist or sexist. And it is obvious to me that the Fine Arts is not now an XXX theater. Much can be gleaned from learning history. How are we to re-create the present & future, without knowing the past?
    Lisa, I am sorry that you are offended by this bit of history. I’m glad that the Fine Arts Theater responded to your letter and set the record straight. And I hope you will return to the Theater with a new perspective.

  6. Johnny

    All porn is bad and objectifies women, does it? Do men get objectified by porn too? Are not men victims too, and in what ways?

    Lighten the hell up, I say. You have way (way) more power by laughing at some prior piece of history like this —and sure, calling out the current wrongs in society when appropriate— than with sending uptight little missives such as this.

  7. boatrocker

    I’m going to sound like the biggest misogynist in the world, but isn’t anything sexy written by males called porn, but anything sexy written by females called erotica and sells more copies at enlightened book stores?

    Congrats, human females. You finally have something as ridiculous as the male created glass ceiling.

    It’s called erotica.

    I wish this made the war of the sexes a moot point, but females who cheer this are like white supremacists who complain that white people aren’t respected.


  8. Joe Vogel

    The Fine Arts Theatre opened as an ordinary movie house called the Strand Theatre on October 24, 1946. I don’t know when the Strand was renamed the Fine Arts, or when it began showing porn, but it was most likely in the 1970s, when older downtown theaters all over the country began failing in large numbers. Those that weren’t converted to other uses or simply demolished sometimes survived by becoming porn houses.

    Its time as a porn house probably saved the Fine Arts from the wrecking ball that destroyed every other theater in Downtown Asheville, including the Plaza, which managed to hang on into the 1980s as a regular movie theater.

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