Keith Albee Brings Community Together; More Visible Restoration Coming

Updated 4 years ago by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
Celeste Winters, preservation consultant for Keith Albee
Celeste Winters, preservation consultant for Keith Albee

"We are taking this to the next level," beamed William Heaberlin as he explained the vision of Orpheum Society in restoring the Keith Albee to the way is was on opening night in 1928. However, using the symbolism of a symphony, he introduced components of the which lead the formation of a capitol plan to polish the jewel for its 100th birthday.

"Everyone of you have a part to play. You are the stars of the legacy symphony," he said.

First, co-president Bob Plymale saluted the Hyman family for their "vision" in mothballing the full auditorium so that the building could maintain daily use as a four-plex cinema. What many thought lost at the time of conversion in actuality was intricately preserved for the future.

"It's the only atmospheric theater of its kind in the world" that is still open, Plymale explained. Architect Thomas Lamb designed the Keith Albee with stars in the sky (roof) which compliment the balcony gardens.

Celeste Winters, an arts fund raising consultant and former director of the Marshall Artists Series, now lives in Phoenix, Ariz. where a 20s era atmospheric theater, The Orpheum, has been fully restored. She remembers her first time inside the Keith, not the name of the movie but the grandeur of the women's restroom mirror where she saw herself as a "big girl" and a "movie star."

One of the dressing rooms in need
One of the dressing rooms in need

Winters will develop input for focusing priority restorations. The Society has raised about $60,000 and has a list that equates about twelve million dollars. For instance, the dressing rooms are not in a condition for the use by world class stars. She seeks input on people's memories of the structure. A focus group is planned Friday to discuss the building's meaning to the city.

Dan Gooding, of Greenbrier Capital Corporation, has been involved in theater restoration projects in Morgantown, WV and Cleveland, Ohio, Playhouse Square District. He and his family recently moved to Huntington.

Gooding believes the community can "pull this off quickly" by reaching for deep pockets outside of Huntington.

He too praised the Hyman family for stabilizing the architectural integrity of the theater. "I wish we could all give them a big hug," adding that a lot of times "places like this fall to the wrecking ball without a wince."

Keith Albee Brings Community Together;  More Visible Restoration Coming

Winters stressed that "arts (brings) business," to cities. Heaberlin explained that "when that vertical sign is in operation  it brings a vibrance" to downtown. "We need to make that a constant," by developing expanded uses for the building from private receptions to entertainment events. A portion of fund raising will be endowed for programming and marketing costs for building events.

One member of the Keith Albee board has already suggested a symphony orchestra competition.

America's Got Talent Winner Landau Eugene Murphy , a  native West Virginian, explained, "I didn't know this place existed until I won," Murphy said. "We have our own Apollo Theater in our state."




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