LaBelle Theatre and South Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau
The historic LaBelle Theatre opened its doors in 1940 and operated as a movie theatre until 1979. With the support of the city of South Charleston and the South Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, the theater has been restored and continues to operate as a center of cultural and community activity. Originally built by Walter B. Urling, who also owned a second theatre in the city, the LaBelle was named in honor of his mother and daughter-both of whom were named Isabelle. Between 1979 and 2002, before the city purchased the building, the old theater was home to several churches.
Backstory and Context
The LaBelle Theatre was built by Walter B. Urling, a South Charleston transplant and veteran. theater operator. Born in Pennsylvania, Urling operated movie theaters in Ohio and northern West Virginia before moving south to Charleston. Before opening the LaBelle, he was involved with the Mound/Martin Theater on 7th Street in South Charleston.
In October 1939 he purchased a parcel on D Street with the intention of constructing a theater of his own. Though 7th Street was then South Charleston's main thoroughfare, Urling anticipated that D Street's greater width would prove advantageous for customer parking. The investment proved sound, as Urling was able to construct a second theater in 1941-42 (optimistically named the Victory Theater in hopes that the United States would emerge victorious from World War 2, which it had just entered when the theater began construction).
The LaBelle, named after Urling's mother and daughter, both Isabelles, carried the name until Urling's death in 1965, when it was renamed the Cinema South and operated by the Urling and Dill families. The first movie shown at the theater was One Foot in Heaven. The Graduate had the longest run. Gone With the Wind had the largest attendance: attendees lined up around the block for tickets.
Sold in 1979, besides a brief reincarnation as a neighborhood theater from 1982-1990, the Labelle was occupied by a succession of churches who used the building as a meeting place until 2002, at which time the the City of South Charleston bought the theater from the Lighthouse Worship Center for $85,000. The building now houses the South Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, and is a much-beloved venue for high-profile events in the city.
2. Smith, Charlotte Ferrell.“LaBelle Theater gets its encore.” Charleston Gazette Mail. 27 Feb. 2013. Web. http://www.wvgazettemail.com/Entertainment/201302260209
3. The History of South Charleston. Edition 2008. Charleston, WV. The Printing Press Ltd., 2008. pp. 298-99