The entertainment industry in Orangeburg is an old and traditional one. The city was the site of many traveling shows and, with the advent of silent movies around 1900, several silent motion picture theaters were soon opened to entertain its citizens.
In 1914, the Orangeburg Amusement Company announced the grand opening of The Reliance at 44 Russell Street. The location was apparently the site of the former Andrae’s building, adjoining the present BlueBird. In 1929, the installation of “talking movies” at The Reliance was announced. The initial opening of The Bluebird Theatre in September 1916 was announced by the Standard Entertainment Company. James Izlar Sims was its President. It was located at 49 E. Russell Street and was the site for many vaudeville-type traveling shows.
The Bluebird continued to operate until 1939, having been moved at some point since The Ritz was reported to have occupied the former Bluebird Theatre in 1935. The Bluebird became renowned in later years as the site of Bob Hope’s first road show in this country after he arrived from England.
In 1941, a brand new movie theater, The Edisto, was opened next door to the closed Reliance. The Edisto was operated by the Sims family until it was leased in the 1960s to another operator. It was closed in the 1980s, with the building used only for storage until late 1996.
James H. Gressette, Jr., owner of the theater building, was aware of the search for a permanent home by the Orangeburg Part-Time Players, the local theater group of which he was a member. In December 1996, he donated the building to the OPTP. Since then, it has undergone extensive renovation and restoration. The name BlueBird was chosen at Gressette’s request in honor of his grandfather, James Izlar Sims, Sr., one of the owners of the original Bluebird. Much of the materials, work and funds were donated by the community, with most of the labor being done by members of the organization themselves.
The grand opening of the newly renovated BlueBird was in June 1998, and in 2019, the theater lobby and auditorium were completely remodeled (read more about that here). The Orangeburg Part-Time Players looks forward to many years of community involvement in its permanent downtown home, the BlueBird Theatre.