Pearis Theater and Witten Building
The Pearis Theater opened its doors on December 20th, 1939, and was constructed by the Star Amusement Company in cooperation with the local Witten family. The theater is an "L"-shaped structure, with a one-lot lobby and an auditorium that extends three lots. The adjoining building, known as the Witten Building, was constructed at the same time, which accommodated retail activity on the first floor and housed professional offices on the second floor. A fire in the 1950s gutted the Witten Building, which, once rehabilitated, lost its historical integrity. The Pearis Theater, however, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for being a rare example of Art Deco architecture in Southwestern Virginia and for the local recreational and cultural significance of the building. Local groups are actively working to restore the theater to its original grandeur.
Backstory and Context
The town's first theater operated out of the Miller Building on Wenonah St. starting in 1930. The Pearis Theater, named after Captain George Pearis, the town's namesake, supplanted the previous theater when it opened on December 20th, 1939. Theater manager Jack Reel had a reputation for running a no-nonsense, orderly and clean establishment until his death in the 1950s. The theater continued to screen films until the 1980s. After a dormant period, Bill and Sylvia Fleener purchased the building in 1992 and used it as an event space until 2005, when the Fleeners listed the building for sale when they moved to Texas. Following an agreement with the Fleeners, local groups began utilizing the space for performances again in 2008, and, today, there are plans to restore the theater to its original grandeur and to screen movies in the building once again. Some locals enjoy sharing stories that claim Jack Reel still haunts the building that meant so much to him when he was alive.
The adjoining building, known as the Witten Building, was constructed at the same time as the Pearis Theater. The bottom floor accommodated retail activity, while the top floor housed professional offices. In the 1950s, the Witten Building was gutted by fire, and, over the years, the building was rehabilitated by other businesses, which resulted in the loss of the building's historical integrity. For this reason, despite the Witten Building still standing today, it was excluded from inclusion in the Pearisburg Historic District boundaries. Currently, a hair salon and a nail salon inhabit the Witten Building.
The Pearis Theater, along with nineteen other buildings, was added to the Virginia Landmark Register on December 11th, 1991, and the National Register of Historic Places on January 30th, 1992, for the local recreational and cultural significance of the building, which reflected Pearisburg's growth and development in the 20th century, and for the architecture. The two-story theater with a stucco finish, a one-lot lobby, and a three-lot auditorium provides a rare example of Art Deco architecture in Southwestern Virginia, and the original marquee with neon and incandescent lights is still intact.
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Investigation - Pearis Theater, Black Raven Paranormal. Accessed October 31st 2019. http://www.blackravenparanormal.com/pearistheatre.html.
Kern, John. Pearisburg Historic District, National Register of Historic Places. January 30th 1992. Accessed October 23rd 2019. https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/VLR_to_transfer/PDFNoms/279-0012_Pearisburg_Historic_District_1992_Final_Nomination.pdf.