The Carver Theatre, now formally known as the Carver Performing Arts Center, is 508-seat Art Deco-style theater located at 1631 4th Avenue North in Birmingham's Civil Rights District. In its days as a movie theater, it was one of several places in the 4th Avenue area where African-Americans could see first-run movies while Birmingham's segregation laws restricted their patronage of other movie-houses in town. The Carver is now a non-profit multipurpose community theater and live-performance venue which seats 508. It is also the home of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and the Birmingham Black Radio Museum.
The Carver, named after educator George Washington Carver, was opened in 1935. A $160,000 renovation in 1945 equipped the Carver with many new features, including 1,300 of the latest model theater chairs, air conditioning, and improved sound and projection, as reported by The Birmingham News. The Fourth Avenue area was a business and entertainment hub for the city's black community, and was also the location of many events in the American Civil Rights Movement.
As with most downtown theaters, the Carver's fortunes declined over the years. In later years, the theater showed pornographic movies, and the facility closed sometime in the early 1980s.
The City of Birmingham, seeking to improve the area where many events of the Civil Rights Movement took place, purchased the Carver in 1990 and remodeled it for live-performance use, with an eye toward remembering the Carver's place in the African-American community. Since its reopening, the Carver has hosted performances by Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, the Tom Joyner syndicated radio show, and many others.
A $240,000 project to enlarge the stage by closing the orchestra pit was planned in 2007 and completed, along with other repairs, in 2011. On the morning of January 7, 2016 a Chevrolet Tahoe crashed through the theater's entrance doors. Later that year, the Birmingham City Council approved $4.3 million on city funding for repairs and renovation of the Carver Theatre. Planned upgrades included restoring the 1,300-seat auditorium and the outdoor marquee to its late 1940s appearance and updating technical equipment for cinema screenings, concerts, stage productions and conference use. The Jazz Hall of Fame also commissioned Studio2H to develop plans for renovations and expansion of its exhibits, but no city funds have been approved for that work.
In January 2018 the City Council approved a $164,000 contract for Montgomery Environmental Inc. to remove asbestos-containing materials from the historic building. Later contracts are expected to complete the restoration by the end of 2018.
- Edgemon, Erin (February 9, 2017) "Carver Theatre, a Birmingham cultural icon, may finally be restored." The Birmingham News