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[caption id="attachment_182792" align="alignright" width="300"] Jamie Hatchell & Michael Basnight[/caption] One of Michael Basnight’s earliest memories is of a field trip to The Pioneer Theater. He and his Manteo Elementary School

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[caption id="attachment_182792" align="alignright" width="300"] Jamie Hatchell & Michael Basnight[/caption] One of Michael Basnight’s earliest memories is of a field trip to The Pioneer Theater. He and his Manteo Elementary School

New owners of the Pioneer Theater Jamie Hatchell and Michael Basnight

Jamie Hatchell & Michael Basnight photograph by Beth Snyder Photography

One of Michael Basnight’s earliest memories is of a field trip to The Pioneer Theater. He and his Manteo Elementary School classmates waddled down Budleigh Street like excited little ducklings to see a movie — on a school day! When he was a bit older, Basnight’s parents or grandparents would drop him off at the theater, and in the summer, he’d ride his bike there with friends. As a teen, he took dates to the theater — just as his parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins had done before him.

The Pioneer Theater has been at the center of Manteo’s social scene since the Creef family opened it in 1918. “You might not remember the movie, but you remember the smell, where you sat, the popcorn,” Basnight says. In 2023, he bought the 105-year-old theater with family partners Jamie and David Hatchell along with Derek and Sharon Hatchell, all multigenerational Outer Banks natives. “It’s that experience that’s so important to keep alive.”

The popcorn machine in the Pioneer Theater and the ticket booth and interior.

Updates to The Pioneer Theater balance old with new, from the original popcorn machine to the refreshed interior. photograph by Beth Snyder Photography, Wes Snyder Photography

Andy Griffith in front of the Pioneer Theater

The Pioneer Theater has been the setting for iconic moments like the 1957 premiere of A Face in the Crowd, which starred Andy Griffith. It now hosts performances, live music, and events. Photography courtesy of AYCOCK BROWN PAPERS, OUTER BANKS HISTORY CENTER, MANTEO, NC

The new owners removed the Tudor facade that had been added to the building in the 1970s, returning the theater to its original beige brick exterior. They also installed a snazzy lighted marquee and vertical “Pioneer” sign, similar to the one that crowned the theater in 1934, when the business moved from Sir Walter Raleigh Street to its current location. They updated the ticket booth and interior while preserving the history and beauty of the Pioneer, and repaired but didn’t dare replace the famous C. Cretors & Company popcorn machine.

Inspired by his childhood trips, Basnight now invites today’s Manteo Elementary School students to visit the theater to watch classic movies — like the 1973 animated Charlotte’s Web — munch on popcorn, and make memories that will surely live in their minds for decades.

The Pioneer Theater
109 Budleigh Street
Manteo, NC 27954
(252) 305-8578
thepioneertheater.com

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This story was published on Apr 29, 2024

Molly Harrison

A native North Carolinian, Molly Harrison moved to the Outer Banks after college in 1994. She works as a writer and editor from her home in Nags Head. Harrison is also the author of the Insiders’ Guide to the Outer Banks.