As construction crews bulldoze the remains of the Cairo drive-in theater in Fuquay-Varina to make way for the Villages at Marquee Station apartments, they will dig up many memories along with the dirt and grass.
Fuquay-Varina residents who went to the theater in the 1960s and 1970s said they enjoyed fun nights with family and a little rebellion with friends.
Dwight Barbour, 78, said he moved to Fuquay from Johnston County when he was about 35. He said he went to the Cairo “once in a while,” but he still remembered what it showed.
“It had different kinds of movies. Some Westerns and some love stories. It showed some Tarzan movies, too,” Barbour said.
Jane Powell also remembered some of the Cairo’s showings.
“Some of those films had Andy Griffith in them,” she said, recalling the North Carolina actor who died on July 3.
Former Fuquay-Varina Independent reporter Etta Lee Matthews remembered seeing Walt Disney films at the Cairo as a child.
“I went with my parents. It had the old speakers you set up in your car. It had all the Walt Disneys. It might have even showed ‘The Absent-Minded Professor,’ but I don’t remember,” she said.
A longtime Fuquay resident who asked not to be named went to the theater as a teenager. She said it was a haven for her and her friends to partake in some teenage rebellion.
“We would smoke cigarettes and curse,” she said.
The Cairo opened with a 250-car capacity in 1961 and soon became a local fixture. In 1967, it co-sponsored Campbell University’s yearbook, The Pine Burr, with Ashworth’s Clothing and Shoes and other local businesses. It co-sponsored the yearbook again in 1969.
Another Fuquay resident who requested anonymity said the Cairo was one of the most popular destinations in town.
“When I was a little girl, everyone went. I think that was the only theater [in town]. They always played really good movies,” she said. “There was nothing that wasn’t fit there, according to my mother.”
That changed once the theater began showing X-rated movies in the 1970s. According to Independent reporter Shirley Hayes, residents complained that, besides just having X-rated movies playing in town, motorists could see the offensive material from Highway 401 as they drove by.
Matthews remembered covering the scandal.
“I wrote that story in 1986 or 1987. I remember going to the Wake County courthouse, and there was a debate whether to show the movies in the courtroom,” she said.
Matthews also said that the Cairo scandal reached beyond Fuquay.
“A nationally syndicated columnist wrote this really tongue-in-cheek column about it” for the Raleigh News & Observer, Matthews said, although she could not recall the columnist’s name.
Hayes said that in the end, “the owners eventually just shut down” to avoid being closed by force.
Before the tawdry headlines, however, the Cairo was a family-friendly establishment that provided many memories for its audiences, including the anonymous Fuquay resident who went there as a girl.
“That was a special moment when I was a child,” she said.