Robinson Grand Theater
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The Robinson Grand Theater opened its doors in 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 shut down due to other popular suburban multiplexes within the area. Thanks to the hardworking people of Clarksburg, the Robinson Grand Theater was completely remodeled.
Backstory and Context
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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, Claude and Reuben, 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 for 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 famous traveling acts which were hosted by the grand theater were Edgar Bergen along with Charlie and Jack Benny. The theater would also later show blockbuster film 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 event.
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.
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.
History. Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center. Accessed January 23, 2017. http://www.therobinsongrand.com/historycontinued.
Martin, Jay. Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center renovations out for bid. WDTV. September 23, 2016. Accessed March 04, 2017. http://www.wdtv.com/content/news/The-Robinson-Grand-Performing-Arts-Center-Renivations-394520351.html.
Robinson Grand restoration bids due Dec. 22. WYK Associates. November 14, 2016. Accessed March 04, 2017. http://wykarchitects.com/news/.
Moore, Emily. The Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center. July 25, 2018. Accessed January 21, 2019. https://www.therobinsongrand.com/single-post/2018/07/25/The-Robinson-Grand-Performing-Arts-Center-to-Hold-SOFT-OPENING-Event-Featuring-Qiet-and-Other-Regional-Artists.