Article

Case Study: Robinson Theater

Looking toward the house from the stage of the Robinson Theater, Clarksburg, West Virginia
Looking toward the house from the stage of the Robinson Theater, Clarksburg, West Virginia

Art by Crim

Robinson Theater marquee
Robinson Theater, Clarksburg, West Virginia

Joe McNemar Photographer, Stonewood, West Virginia

Building History

The Robinson Grand Theater was built by Clarksburg Amusement Company in 1912, opening its doors in 1913. The Robinson brothers, Claude and Rueben, ran the day-to-day operations. Part of the Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit, the theater hosted such famous performers as Jack Benny and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. The theater was significantly enlarged and remodeled in 1927. Claude Robinson’s friendship with Albert Warner of Warner Brothers gave him early access to the new sound technology, and the theater became one of the first in the nation to show “talkies.” In May of 1939, a fire destroyed most of the stage and auditorium, leaving the front part of the building, including the façade, largely intact. The façade was retained and an entirely new auditorium and stage in the Streamline Moderne style designed by Edward J. Wood were added. The theater reopened in December 1939, less than seven months after the fire. The reopening, which the theater presented as its “Christmas gift to Clarksburg,” was lauded by the press, and received page upon page of congratulatory ads from the contractors and suppliers involved in the project. The interior was remodeled in 1984 to be more competitive with suburban multiplexes, but attendance continued to decline steadily until the theater closed in 2004.

The City of Clarksburg acquired the building in 2014 and immediately began a lengthy planning process to come up with a compatible reuse for the theater, which is a contributing structure to the Downtown Clarksburg National Register Historic District. A public-private partnership was created with the City, The Cultural Foundation of Harrison County, and others in the North Central West Virginia region to undertake the rehabilitation of the theater into a performing arts center. The project began in January 2017, and the Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center held its Grand Opening in October 2018.

Scope of Rehabilitation

The project restored the exterior, and the historic windows were repaired and retained. A new marquee with LED lighting and video display was installed. Inside, the historic chandeliers, terrazzo flooring, water fountains, and grand staircases in the lobby were preserved and repaired. The original coved plaster ceilings and antique air diffusers in the performance hall were preserved and updated with indirect lighting. The grand proscenium design was retained, along with the stage and ballroom flooring and decorative glass displays. In addition to making the building ADA compliant, the project included the construction of two additions containing a new concession area, expanded restrooms, and new green room/dressing rooms that connect directly to the stage. New drainage and an orchestra green room were installed in the basement. The rehabilitation resulted in a performance hall that seats over 1,000 patrons and an educational center with prep-kitchen and circular bar and lounge areas on the second floor.

Role of the Historic Tax Credit

The rehabilitation of the Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center would likely not have happened without the support of Federal Historic Tax Credits. Additionally, significant spaces like the lobby, ballroom, and performance hall could not have been brought back to their original luster. Other important incentives included West Virginia State Historic Tax Credits, Federal New Markets Tax Credits, and a capital campaign that raised nearly $2 million in private contributions.

Economic Impact on Community

The theater attracts over 120,000 visitors to 250 events a year
and provides 11 free events to the local community. The impact of
the performing arts center has been a catalyst for new economic development in the area. A new restaurant has opened several blocks from the theater, and an adjacent property has been recently purchased in preparation for new development to be completed in 2021. Increased local tax revenues can be attributed to increased foot traffic in and around the Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center.

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Last updated: November 2, 2020