From 1914 to 1922 over 4000 theaters were built with many more in the years approaching the Depression. Many were called “theater palaces” because of the extravagant designs. Opulent themes inspired Chinese, Persian, and other exotic finishing touches.
The Depression put an end to construction of new theaters. After World War II finishing in many theaters leaned towards impressive but not as ornate Art Deco décor. Drive-in theaters also became increasingly common around the country until the multiplex theaters of the 1970s persuaded movie goers to leave the old ornate downtown theater once and for all. Many closed and were torn down.
Concerns for the rehabilitation and renovation of these old palaces started in the 1980s. Because of concerned citizens who value this significant and historic architectural style, there are several around the country, mostly located in small cities, that provide once again a beautiful setting for performances.
The Keith-Albee Theater located in Huntington, West Virginia was completed in 1928 and cost 2 million dollars at that time. It was part of a vaudeville circuit and was equipped with a Wurlitzer Organ and a screen for motion pictures. The organ could create any sound needed for the silent films of the 20s. The organ was removed in 1950 because of the decreased interest in that kind of music. In the 1970s the theater was converted into three viewing areas, with two others in what had is now adjacent commercial areas.
In 1986, the Keith-Albee was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in conjunction with several blocks of downtown Huntington. The Marshall University Foundation took a 99 year lease on the theatre in 1990 and renovations were conducted in the 1990s. In 2006 the Keith-Albee finally stopped all movie showings and the theater is now used for the Marshall Artists Series, semi-annual foreign film festivals , numerous visiting singers and bands and is available for hire for special occasions.
I have been to the Keith-Albee for several foreign films, to see several visiting singers, and once, to perform on stage as part of a huge chorus and orchestra presenting Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. It is an inspiring theater.