A Flashback in Time: Fifth Avenue Arcade, Visionary Building Anticipated Malls, Once J.F.K.'s Campaign HQ

Updated 1 year ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Fifth Avenue Arcade
Fifth Avenue Arcade

When touring the former Fifth Avenue Arcade, the elements of once opulence and splendor remain , though, encrusted through the aging that time has taken on the structure. Known in the late 20th Century, as the Huntington City Hall Annex, the recently sold structure has a rich history.

Little did I know , though, that Walter Lewis was the Fifth Avenue Arcade’s original owner. Though I did not know the senior Lewis, my friendship and mentorship with his son, Walter H. Lewis  Jr., who operated the Mountaineer Dinner Theater in Hurricane, WV from 1971-1984.

A professional year round theatre company displayed one of the early visions of pulling together the state’s largest cities, Huntington and Charleston, at a half way point, Exit 34, Winfield of Interstate 64.

Styled as a barn dinner theatre, the entertainment venue drew tourists and community members from the two large cities, as well as Ashland, Ky., to what was when it open a largely undeveloped segment of Teays Valley. The theatre itself contained a stage that lowered like an elevator. Past the Green Room, the structure contained dormitory styled rooms for the actors. Shows changed monthly. Most of its life, the productions came through from a “circuit” based in Nashville which had additional stops including one in Lexington, Ky. that Lewis purchased in the late 70s.

Main Hall
Main Hall
(c) 2012 by Glen Berry

Envisioning the growth of the two cities midway and the development of a large enough audience to support the state’s only dinner theatre, Walter Lewis Jr. emulated the forward thinking of his father.

Lewis constructed both the Lewis Arcade (on Third Avenue) and the smaller Fifth Avenue Arcade, next to Huntington’s City Hall. Although Tri State OIC and the Huntington Sanitary Board were among its last tenants, when originally constructed the Fifth Avenue Arcade linked with the Lewis Arcade via a tunnel, according to an article that appeared  in the Huntington Quarterly’s Spring  1996 edition written by Joseph Platania.

Directory
Directory
(c) 2012 by Glen Berry

The Arcade contained a glass brick first floor hall, which created the illusion of marble.

Historically, the building included other city departments, but during World War II , it was home to the Zenith Optical Company, which made precision instruments for the federal government. In fact, a trip into the basement and subbasement reveals both old mug shots from the Huntington Police Department and shelves that appear undisturbed from the war era.

The Platania article focused on proof that a tunnel once existed between the Fifth Avenue and Lewis Arcades. Construction franchise records published in a September 3, 1924 newspaper article confirm the then existence of the tunnel. Interestingly, it's rationale equates to another visionary experience. Lewis predicted the establishment of shopping centers and malls and in constructing the pedestrian tunnel it was a means for shoppers to go between Fifth and Fourth Avenue without going into the exterior weather.

Alarm to Hotel
Alarm to Hotel
(c) 2012 by Glen Berry

The article reveled Lewis' fascination with the underground. He enlarged the basement of the then Huntington Dry Goods by a excavation process similar to mining.

When touring the former Arcade, the sub-basement still contains a fire alarm system that included it, City Hall, and the former Adelphia Hotel, which sat on Ninth Street. The Cabell County Public Library envelopes the location, but the hotel --- which burned --- was on the northern portion of the quadrant as one of a series of businesses that included Nick's News and the White Pantry Restaurant.

When the Fifth Avenue Arcade (Annex) was constructed in 1925, attorneys and insurance companies rented portions of the building. You could also go to the doctor, get your hair done or join the Army.  When purchased in 1946 by Polan Realty Corp., the Veterans Administration was the primary tenant.

When John F. Kennedy campaigned for President in West Virginia in 1960, the Democratic Executive Committee used portions of the building and it served as one of Kennedy's campaign organization. Sargent Shriver was prominent in the state between 1958-1960, so one can imagine the calls that originated from the building during the primary, campaign, and Presidential election of J.F.K.

Polan Industries Stockroom
Polan Industries Stockroom
Photo Glen Berry

An enamel facade was added to the front when the structure reverted to mostly civilian uses. In the 1970s, attorneys , coal companies and insurances offices shared space with the police crime convention bureau and Huntington Sanitary Board.

Speculation on tunnel use came in the same article when Del. Jim  Morgan then stated that it is his understanding that during World War II, a tunnel connected the basement of the Lewis Arcade with the "sub-basement level" of the building at 824 Fifth Avenue that was then owned by the Polan family. (The Morgan family had purchased the Lewis Arcade which became the Morgan Arcade.)

The tunnel was used for federal government operations during the war years, said Morgan, in 1996, adding that there was "nothing clandestine going on there."

More than one urban legend exists regarding underground passages in the city. Speculation states that they had a link to shuttling performers between hotels and vaudeville stages. Additionally, Huntington's unknown subterranean labyrinth many have played roles during prohibition and the Underground Railway. The article suggested that many of them were destroyed in the 1937 flood and others have caved in. 

An original elevator door still intact
An original elevator door still intact
(c) 2012 Photo Glen Berry

Our short pictorial exploration found no tunnel, but several marvelous shots of , for instance, an original elevator door were taken. Another in the gallery, includes an apparent stair passage to no where.

Other images can be seen at: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/53644

 

                                                                                                      

 

 

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