The people who buried a time capsule at what’s now the Scrap Exchange fifty years ago were not joking around. They sealed the memorabilia in an airtight metal box, welded it shut, reinforced it with rebar, and planted it under an 800-pound slab of concrete.

“It’s been a big ordeal to get this thing out,” says the Scrap Exchange’s Jeremy Parker, who helped figure out how to excavate the box. “They did everything in their power to make sure that it was going to be a good opening for us today.”

On December 19, 1966, Durham locals, including Lakewood Shopping Center developer Ran Few and Center Theater manager Charlie Lewis, gathered to celebrate the theater’s reopening. It had moved to Lakewood from downtown, where the Durham Hotel stands now. As a part of the celebration, Few and Lewis buried a time capsule to be opened in December 2016.

When the Scrap Exchange, Durham’s pioneering creative reuse center, purchased the former Center Theater building at 2050 Chapel Hill Road in 2013, the owners knew it came with a time capsule and immediately began planning for its opening. On December 16, the Scrap Exchange threw a party to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversaryand to finally discover what was in that box. More than 500 people showed up to find out, and to hear speakers including Mayor Pro Tempore Cora Cole-McFadden and county commissioner Brenda Howerton.

Cole-McFadden went to school at Lyon Park, now Lyon Park Community Center, mere blocks away from the Scrap Exchange. “I feel so good about being in this space,” she said. “I came to the movies here fifty years ago, so it brings back such fond memories of the rich history of Durham that so many people don’t know and therefore cannot appreciate.”

The Bulltown Strutters led the crowd in a parade to the front entrance, where the time capsule was lifted out of the ground and brought inside. There, it was opened by Dana Few Pope, the daughter of Ran Few, and Gary Lewis, the son of Charlie Lewis. The audience, which included several people who were at the 1966 ceremony, pushed forward, anxious for the reveal.

First, Lewis and Pope spoke about their memories of the Center Theater and Lakewood Shopping Center. For Pope, they included the tradition of Santa flying into the shopping center on a helicopter every holiday season. Lewis, who worked in his father’s theater, remembered being popular for his access to movie passes.

Then, together, they slowly peeled back the metal top of the time capsule.

“I was so afraid this stuff was all going to be soaking wet, but it’s in perfect condition,” Pope exclaimed upon peering into the box. Lewis and Pope began pulling out items in pristine condition, including a register of names of people at the 1966 burial, reels of film of the enshrining ceremony, a photo of Mick Jagger, a Durham Morning Herald with a headline about the Vietnam War, and a letter from Durham Mayor Wense Grabarek to his 2016 counterpart. (It was sealed, so we’ll have to ask Mayor Bell what it says.)

According to Pope, who attended the 1966 ceremony at age seven, attendees were invited to add personal items after the Few and Lewis families put in theirs.

“Is there anybody here who put something in?” she asked the crowd on Friday. A few people raised their hands, including Duffy McDonald, who said he remembered throwing in a school photo and a penny. Moments later, Pope pulled out a pocket-size black-and-white photo of a young McDonald.

Several people had traveled long distances for the reveal. Lewis flew in from Texas, while Betsy DeCampo drove in from Morehead City to read a letter her father, Eugene Holland Moore Jr., wrote to her brother.

“My father was at the time-capsule burial and put a letter in it to my brother, but my brother passed away,” she said, slightly teary-eyed after reading the letter privately. “It’s just sort of emotional because I can feel them both.” Included with the letter were photos of each Moore family member and a dollar bill from 1963.

“He said he hoped the value would go up,” DeCampo said with a laugh.

For Gary Lewis, who was almost fourteen when the theater opened in Lakewood, walking through the building where he spent his adolescence taking tickets, selling concessions, and smoking cigarettes out back with friends caused overwhelming nostalgia.

“I remember the smell of it,” he says. “It was new, and there was the smell of fresh popcornit was like a circus.” He says the theater was technologically advanced at the time, with stereo sound and rocking-chair seats.

Lewis says his father would have loved to see this impressive reuse of the space, which will soon become even more impressive. The Scrap Exchange has purchased 82,000 additional square feet of The Shoppes at Lakewood and 10.35 acres of land to be developed into the Reuse Arts District (RAD) and the National Center for Creative Reuse.

The expanded facilities will feature more exhibition space, a thrift store, and architectural salvage. A floor-to-ceiling wall of concepts by N.C. State architecture students is currently on display in the Scrap Exchange’s Cameron Gallery as part of Unpacking the Past, Designing the Future. The exhibit presents the history of the Lakewood Shopping Center, and now, it also displays the contents of the time capsule through February.

“I see this, very soon, as the national center for creative reuse,” Cole-McFadden said of the Scrap Exchange’s expansion. “Some people say Durham is already on the map, but this will really be the stamp.”

What’s in the box?

More stuff found in the Center Theater time capsule

• A film by Ralph Lynch

• A New English Bible

• A fifty-cent piece presented to the president of the Lakewood Merchant Association

• A book titled Durham: City of Industrial Education and Medicine

• Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church bulletin

• “The True Aristocrat” by Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church minister William Compton Bennett

• A St. Christopher’s medal

• A newspaper from Dec. 18, 1966, headlined “Bill Dooley Appointed Football Coach at UNC”

• Pictures of the old and new Center Theater

• WTVD television programs

• A 1966 phone book

• A box of transistors

• A 1966 coin set

• A letter to longtime Durham public schoolteacher Eugene Holland Moore III

• Facts about the League of Women Voters

• List of N.C. General Assembly members that says “Democrats unless otherwise indicated”

• A fact sheet about the Durham Children’s museum

• A list of stores in the Lakewood Shopping Center, which included Butler’s Shoe Repair, Carolina Camera and Music Center, Center Theater, Eve’s Insurance, Flower Craft, Four Winds Gift and Linen, Harris Nursery and Landscaping, Home Savings and Loan, Kroger, Lakewood Barber Shop, Lakewood Beauty Salon, Model Cleaners, Top Value, Winn Dixie, and Woolworths

This article appeared in print with the headline “Time, Released.”