Vintage Nostalgia

What is the Bonnie Kate Theater?

Representing the earliest days of moving pictures through the golden age of Hollywood and beyond, the Bonnie Kate Theater stands as a monument to the arts. Since showing its first silent film to a packed house in 1926, local residents and many influential people have made unforgettable memories at the Bonnie Kate in downtown Elizabethton.

Do you have memories at the Bonnie Kate? Share them with us!

Our History

A Legacy of Artistic Excellence

Originally opening in 1926 as a 500-seat cinematic theater, the Bonnie Kate has hosted numerous shows, films, theatrical productions, and events throughout its colorful history. Though it changed hands several times over the decades, renovations and improvements kept the Bonnie Kate a thriving aspect of life in Elizabethton and the Tri-Cities of East Tennessee. Here’s a brief timeline of the Bonnie Kate’s history: 


Bonnie Kate Theater opens to a sellout crowd in May.


The “Barrel of Fun” musical show is held every Saturday at the Bonnie Kate and is broadcast by radio to 3.2 million listeners across the Southeast. Childhood western star Johnny Mack Brown once appeared at the Bonnie Kate.


Several war bond drives are hosted at the Bonnie Kate as local citizens invested in the United States to support our men and women fighting overseas in World War II. Harvey Pritchard, a former Elizabethton STAR executive, worked as an usher at the theater during high school.


The theater’s ownership changed hands several times and enjoyed numerous upgrades, including the first rocking-chair theater seating east of the Mississippi River. Bonnie Lou and Buster performed several early radio shows before moving into television.


The Bonnie Kate becomes the first theater to install rocking seats east of the Mississippi.


90s: More ownership changes and more improvements, including dividing the theater in half to accommodate two shows simultaneously.


Live performances and other events are held at the Bonnie Kate, but the building is seriously deteriorating.


The Bonnie Kate Theater closes and falls into disrepair. It eventually enters foreclosure.


The East Tennessee Foundation purchases the Bonnie Kate Theater, which allows efforts to begin for its preservation and eventual restoration.


The theater is currently owned by the City of Elizabethton and managed by the Friends of Bonnie Kate non-profit organization. Renovations to preserve its legacy begin.
Our Vision

Promoting the Arts for Today and the Future

Some of the most enigmatic memories of the Bonnie Kate stemmed from live performances and cinematic productions. Stories continue to pour in from former patrons, employees, and supporters.

However, Friends of Bonnie Kate, a 501c3 non-profit organization, desires for the Bonnie Kate Theater to be more than a monument of the past. They seek to restore the theater to its former elegance so new generations of local residents and guests can enjoy exposure to various forms of the arts.

The Bonnie Kate can have an everlasting impact on the arts for our region and for current and future generations of participants. Bring your family and friends and join us as we build new memories and create new opportunities to enjoy the arts!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have questions? Browse our FAQs to learn more about the Bonnie Kate Theater today! 

Yes. The Bonnie Kate Theater complies with all state and federal standards for handicap accessibility. Ask a Bonnie Kate team member if you need assistance.

Yes. A city parking lot is south of the building and across the street; other nearby parking options are available. 

Yes. Our concessions are considerably more affordable than other local theaters, making it easier for entire families to enjoy our shows and productions. Many events also offer combos and specials for extra savings. 


Yes. Men’s and women’s bathrooms are available to the public while the Bonnie Kate is open. 

The City of Elizabethton owns the Bonnie Kate Theater. 

Friends of Bonnie Kate is a 501c3 non-profit organization that manages all aspects of the Bonnie Kate. 

Donations to support the Bonnie Kate Theater are welcome. Patrons can also add a donation when they purchase tickets or merchandise online. 

Yes. Friends of Bonnie Kate welcomes corporate and personal sponsors to help with the ongoing work at the Bonnie Kate Theater. Contact us about sponsoring programs or other projects. 

The Bonnie Kate Theater welcomes your comments and feedback. Please share your thoughts or ideas on our contact page. 

Get In Touch

Join us in celebrating the arts in the heart of downtown Elizabethton, TN! Browse our events page for upcoming shows or contact us to learn more about getting involved with the Bonnie Kate today!

(423) 895-1762

115 S. Sycamore Street Elizabethton, TN 37643