Huntington residents urged to support Keith-Albee

An editorial from The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Huntington has been fortunate that those who built the Keith-Albee Theatre more than 85 years ago and have been entrusted with its care in the decades since were serious about their responsibility to the structure that graces 4th Avenue.

Most of the credit for that goes to the Hyman family, which opened the theater in 1928 as part of the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Corporation, a leading vaudeville circuit at the time. The theater flourished for decades, but the public’s changing tastes for entertainment and competition from new, multiplex theaters posed challenges which finally prompted the Hyman family to close the structure as a cinematic theater in 2006. But, as supporters note, the architectural integrity of the structure was maintained under the Hymans’ ownership, and the family resisted the trend by many owners of grand old theaters to demolish the structure.

The family’s generosity prompted it to donate the Keith-Albee to the Marshall University Foundation Inc., which in turn passed it on to a newly formed Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center Foundation. The members of that group have worked the last several years to maintain and restore the structure so that it remains an iconic downtown landmark and an important performance venue.

Now, the Huntington community is being asked to help continue that stewardship so that the Keith-Albee, one of just a few dozen “atmospheric”-designed theaters in the country, will be part of Huntington for decades more.

A new organization, called the Orpheum Society, has been formed to support continued restoration of the theater. It is calling upon the community to raise $12 million to continue work on the Keith-Albee. That’s a significant amount of money, but as the cost of recent repairs demonstrates, restoring the luster to the institution will require a considerable investment.

Just in recent years, donations and grants from the state have paid for a $900,000 roof, a new $150,000 fly-wheel system for the stage, a new $25,000 sign outside, a new $40,000 handicapped restroom, new $7,800 historically precise showcases and more….

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