The Metropolitan Theater is a stage theater located on High Street. Founded in 1924, it is one of West Virginia's foremost centers for the dramatic arts, hosting stage plays and other presentations several times a year. Featured on the West Virginia Historic Theatre Trail, the Metropolitan Theatre is a cornerstone of Morgantown history and culture and introduces local youth to the dramatic arts through its junior theater programs. Outside the theatre, a statue of Morgantown native Jesse 'Don' Knotts has been installed. Knotts frequently performed at the Metropolitan.
Backstory and Context
The Metropolitan Theatre is the only theatre in Morgantown to have retained its original architectural integrity since opening in 1924. Shortly after opening, the Metropolitan Theatre was deemed "West Virginia's most beautiful playhouse." George P. and John P. Comuntzis bought land from Milton and Hattie Hirschman of New York City for $130,000 on January 10, 1921 and began construction on their playhouse. The same man who built the West Virginia University College of Law building, C.W. Bates of Wheeling, was also responsible for building the Metropolitan Theatre.
"The plans for the $500,000 building are gone, and the architect's wife destroyed his sketches, so it is hard to know exactly how many rooms are in the building. A 1924 description noted a large room in the basement to house a cafeteria, billiard room and barber shop, a sub-basement included the power plant and heating and ventilating systems. Under the stage was a room for musicians, plus space for scenery, baggage rooms and dressing rooms. The dressing rooms were on outside walls to get light and ventilation. Above the pool room (below the theatre) are two storage rooms - one very large under the lobby area and a smaller one under one of the small storage rooms. A complete sign shop was located in one of the basement rooms. "1
Opening night was July 24, 1924 and featured "Seven Acts of Vaudeville sent here by the B.F. Keith Amusement Company from its New York Office." From that night on, the Comuntzis brothers provided high quality performances to the Morgantown area. Performances included: Ziegfield's "Sally," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Madame Butterfly," the original cast of George White's "Scandals" which opened at the Met before going to New York for a multi-year run, the farewell tour of the nationally known "McIntyre and Heath," Schubert's "The Student Prince," a New York City production of "The Green Hats" with Charlotte Walker and Norman Hackett, Maria Jeritza, (leading prima donna of the Metropolitan Opera Co.) Will Rogers, "The Beggar's Opera," Pat Rooney's "Five Rodeo Boys" with three-year-old Mickey Rooney, etc.1
The theatre's interior was elaborately painted in the color scheme of French Gray, old rose, and gold. The furniture was supplied locally by Royal Furniture of Morgantown. A large reinforced concrete vault with steel doors in is the basement and holds all of the electric currents needed to operate the theatre. In March of 1930 the Met experienced a devastating fire and was forced to close until May of 1930. When the theatre reopened it was completely restored with the exception of missing a few balcony seats due to the extension of the projection room. In 1933, the Metropolitan Theatre was one of the first theatres in the country to supply air conditioning.1 The Met was also the first theatre in northern West Virginia to install Vitaphone and Movietone sound systems. Due to these advancements, the Met was chosen as one of the few theatres in the United States to show movies prior to their national release dates.
In 1990 the Metropolitan Theatre underwent extensive restorations. It was later added to the West Virginia Historic Theatre trail by the West Virginia Department of Commerce.
Today the Met is owned by the City of Morgantown. It continues to serve as a community meeting space, playing host to West Virginia University events, Miss West Virginia pageants and various community groups.
1. “National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Accessed September 7, 2016. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/monongalia/84003631.pdf. 2. “Metropolitan Theatre.” October 13, 2014. Accessed September 8, 2016. https://wvhistorictheaters.com/region-4-north/metropolitan-theatre/.
"Metropolitan Theater, Morgantown, W.Va.," West Virginia History OnView, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries. https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/033820.