The Robinson Grand Theater opened its doors on 1913 with the help of its founders William Lafferty, Charles Alexander and Reuben Robinson of the Clarksburg Amusement Company. It was later renovated and enlarged in 1927 to appeal to contemporary designs and society of its time. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in May of 1939 when an air conditioner caught on fire destroying most of the stage and theater house. Luckily, it was able to be rebuilt by December of the same year. This was the place where many locals first saw classics like Jaws, Star Wars and the Sound of Music. The theater continued to show movies and host local events through the 1980s, but later shutdown due to other popular suburban multiplexes within the area. Thanks to hardworking people of Clarksburg, the Robinson Grand Theater was completely remodeled.
The Robinson Grand Theater first
opened its doors to the public on February 7, 1913. It was built by the
Clarksburg Amusement Company, which was formed in the previous year by Robert
Lafferty, Claude Robinson, Charles Alexander, and Reuben Robinson. The original
1913 theater structure sat back from the street 72 feet and had a covered entry
way. One of the few photographs of the early theater illustrates the
substantial entryway opening onto the street from the covered walkway. The
entrance was a segmental arch with globe lights and was flanked by a structure
containing a ticket booth and a wall that contained areas to display movie posters.
Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky,
the Robinson brothers, also known as Claude and Reuben Robinson, were very
familiar with the theater business. Claude began selling programs throughout
Kentucky and later in New Orleans very early on in his life. He would later
become a treasurer and a manager for theaters across the country. Despite being
responsible to the creation of the Robinson Grand Theater, historians do not
know much about Reuben's life besides the fact that he worked many years as a manager
at the Grand Opera House in Clarksburg, West Virginia, which burnt down in
1910. The loss of this establishment caused the area to no longer have a venue
for shows and entertainment. Reuben noticed the show-hungry community and was
determined to fix the issue. After convincing his brother Claude to relocate to
West Virginia, the Robinson Grand Theater became a work in progress.
The Case of Becky
starring Frances Starr was the first show to appear within the theater on
opening night. This new theater happened to be a part of the Keith-Albee
vaudeville circuit. To this day the Keith Albee in Huntington, West Virginia,
is still active and open to the public. Some of the traveling acts the grand
theater hosted were famous acts of its time, like Edgar Bergen with Charlie and
Jack Benny. The theater would also later show blockbuster hits like Jaws and Star Wars in the 1980s.
After being open for fourteen years,
the Robinson Grand Theater underwent a remodel in 1927 in hopes of being more
appealing to the public. The building was extended onto the street, making more
room inside, and increasing the seating capacity from 1,000 to 1,500. The
exterior structure is known for being Neo-Gothic with prominent Gothic windows.
On the ground level, the main entrance is marked by a Tudor arch and elaborate
decorative terracotta details. It is said these renovations reflected the
contemporary designs of its time.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck the
Robinson Grand Theater on May 31, 1939, when the torch of an air conditioner
repairman set the structure ablaze, destroying much of the stage and house.
Luckily, the front part of the building was still intact despite the damages
caused to the structure. After Claude Robinson promised the residents of the
Clarksburg area the theater would be rebuilt, the town held a grand reopening
on December 24, 1939, which was less than seven months after the heartbreaking
Still to this day the 1939 structure
stands with the original 1927 facade, but contains a new house and stage
within. The Robinson Grand Theater was active and open to the public through
the 1980s, where plays, concerts, and dance recitals were often hosted. Residents
still fondly recall memories of times spent at the theater. As modern times
began to arrive and the increase of demand for suburban multiplexes, the
Robinson Grand Theater was frequented less and less by the public, causing it
to shut down in
The City of Clarksburg acquired the
building in 2014 and the capital campaign began its public phrase in 2017 to
raise money for the $15 million multi-use facility in the North Central area of
West Virginia. According to the
Clarksburg City Manager, Martin Howe, a recent economic study done within the
city expresses that the renovation and restoration project for the former
theater will have nearly a $32 million impact over the first five years of its
operation. A soft re-opening of the theater was held on August 24th, 2018. The
theater is now fully operational, with frequent showings and events.