The Morton Building was built in 1910 by Monroe Bowers ("Pink") Morton, a prominent, local, African-American businessman. Although he had little formal education, he became a successful businessman and prominent figure in Athens' history. In 1896 he was chosen as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. He was also a contractor and owned over 30 buildings, the Morton being the largest.
At one time, the Morton building formed the core of the downtown Black business district. Many of Athens' Black doctors, dentists and pharmacists practiced in the Morton Building. Among these were Dr. Ida Mae Johnson Hiram, the first Black woman to be licensed to practice medicine (dentistry) in the State, and Dr. William H. Harris, one of the founders of the Georgia State Medical Association of Colored Physicians, Dentists and Druggists.
The theatre was opened on May 18, 1910 for vaudeville acts and those of local, regional and nations performers. Early acts such as classical pianist Alice Carter Simmons, Butterbeans and Susie, Blind Willie McTell, Curley Weaver, and Roy Dunn, together with more widely known acts such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong and Ma Rainey performed at the Morton during its hey-day.
During the 1930's, the theatre was modified to become a movie house. In 1954, a small fire broke out in the projection room. After a fire marshal's inspection, the 500-plus-seat theatre was padlocked for failing to offer adequate emergency exits. However, various street level businesses continued their operations.
In 1980, using a combination of state and federal funds, the building was purchase by the nonprofit Morton Theatre Corporation. Local bands such as Dreams So Real, the B-52's and R.E.M. occasionally used the building for rehearsal space and filming music videos. In 1987, the citizens of Athens-Clarke County came to the rescue of the Morton through the passage of the special projects local option sales tax referendum that included the restoration of the theatre.
In 1991, ownership of the building was passed over to the Athens-Clarke Unified Government. In the fall of 1993, followed by the signing of a management agreement between the Athens-Clarke Unified Government and the Morton Theatre Corporation, the theatre was re-opened. Restored and adapted as a performing arts space, the Morton now caters to local community and touring groups hosting live musical concerts, musicals, dramas, church services, weddings, dance concerts, receptions, poetry readings, and pageants. The government provides staff to enable the theatre to function as a community performing arts space, while the non-profit Morton Theatre Corporation develops programming and maintains operating policies.
Hours of Operation
Sunday: 9:00AM - 6:00PM
Monday: 9:00AM - 6:00PM
Tuesday: 9:00AM - 6:00PM
Wednesday: 9:00AM - 6:00PM
Thursday: 9:00AM - 6:00PM