306-308 E Main - State / Russell/astor Theater

35.993362, -78.898232

Year built
Year demolished
Architectural style
Building Type
Can you help?
You don't need to know everything, but do you know the architect?
Log in or register and you can edit this.

State Theater, 1937.

The JR Day house was built during the 1880s, and took up about half the block between Queen and Roxboro Sts. The above is a sketch from 1895 of this large, elaborate house.

I haven't located a photograph of the front of the house, but I noticed that a picture that purports to show something else entirely - the explosion of Durham's first electricity generator - actually shows the back of the JR Day house. I also think it may show the steeple of the first St. Philip's church, just visible through the trees.

Looking north from ~Ramseur near Roxboro, 1899.

This house was torn down in the 1910s, and the land was used to develop several commercial structures - including the row of the Eligibility building, the State/Russel/Astor theater, and the Durham Sun - during the 1920s.

The Russel Theater was established at 306 East Main St. in 1935. By 1938, it had changed to the State Theater.

State Theater, 1938.


A 1939 night view of the theater shows a bit of the somewhat Spanish Revival style structure, with its patterned brick facade and tile above the marquee.
(Courtesy Library of Congress)

Looking west from the front of the theater, late 1930s.

In 1949, the theater became the Astor Theater. According to "Durham and Her People" the theater was "the first to show foreign language films in the Carolinas [and] cooperates with all local colleges and schools in presenting its program."

The theater seems to have closed prior to the 1970s, but I'm unsure of exactly when. It became a church by the late 1960s


Looking southeast, ~1970.


This photograph was taken in February 1976 by a consultant to the NC Historic Preservation Office.

By the 1980s, it had become the "River of Life" church.

Looking southeaast, 1986.

The building was sold by River of Life to Durham County in 1988. This building was still standing up until ~2006; when the county decided to put this and the Eligibility building on the market, it demolished the structure (which had pretty bad roof damage.)

It was sold with the Eligibility Building to David Revere in March of 2007.

306 E. Main, 2007.

As of 2012, the vacant lot created by the county remains empty and overgrown. Yay for for the perpetual Durham policy of city-building by taxpayer-funded clearance. Which usually ends up a taxpayer-funded infrastructure project 30 years down the line.  Good to know some things about constantly-reinventing Durham will never change.


I'm quite certain the theater closed long before the early eighties. I came to Durham in 1967 and I don't remember it at all. I don't even remember hearing about it. I suspect it must have closed in the fifties or early sixties.

The church signage looked awful, but your photographs reveal a once handsome building. Once again, what a shame that it's gone.

Add new comment

Log in or register to post comments.