You need to drop in a human figure, here and there, into any collection of photos of the grand Keith-Albee Theater at 925 Fourth Ave., in Huntington, W.Va. There’s no other way to get a sense of the scale, the sheer ambitious size and scope of this theater, which surely belongs on the short list of Coolest Theaters in North America.
I was in the theater for a Saturday, March 4, 2023, screening of the powerful, radical documentary, “The Wake Up Call,” about the momentous life of Dave Evans, a Cabin Creek, W.Va., native. (SEE “The Long, Strange Trip of Dave Evans’ Life”). Before and after the screening of this momentous film about a genuine American hero, I snapped some shots of the deservedly momentous setting for a screening of this award-winning work by Alison Gilkey and Eric Neudel.
CLICK TO ENLARGE PHOTOS
The theater opened to the public on May 7, 1928, in the heart of Huntington, according to this page about its history. It was built at the behest of vaudeville tycoons B. F. Keith and Edward Albee, and became a part of their Keith-Albee circuit, “the premier vaudeville tour on the East Coast of the United States.” Scottish-born architect Thomas W. Lamb designed the Keith-Albee, one of about 150 theaters he crafted around the world. The Keith-Albee’s Wikipedia page notes that 43 of these grand theaters are still open, while 71 have been demolished. That fate almost befell the Keith-Albee some years ago, but a coalition of folks rescued this precious space, so that long-time admirers and new visitors can gawk on.
MORE DETAILS ON THE THEATER FROM THE LINK:
+ “The Keith-Albee Theatre, which cost $2 million to construct in 1928, was dubbed a “temple of amusement” by Huntington’s Herald-Dispatch newspaper. The opening day performance on May 8, 1928, featured performer Rae Samuels, nicknamed the “Blue Streak of Vaudeville” for her versatile acting ability. The theatre survived a major flood in 1937.”
+ “In 1988 the theater hosted a pre-screening benefit of the blockbuster movie “Rainman.” Actor Dustin Hoffman, as well as director Barry Levinson and producer Mark Johnson, traveled to Huntington and attended the benefit.”
+ “As vaudeville suffered a major decline in the 1930s, the Keith-Albee began to run movies. By the 1970s grand movie houses were being torn down to make way for larger cinemas. However, the citizens of Huntington chose to save the theatre from closure and the wrecking ball. … On January 22, 2006, the Keith-Albee stopped being an active movie theater … [with renovations returning it into a performing arts center.]”
+ On December 12, 2006, the Keith-Albee hosted the world premiere of the movie “We Are Marshall” with actors Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox and director Joseph McGinty Nichol attending. The theatre itself even makes a cameo appearance in the movie.”
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