West Virginia’s oldest movie theater is still going strong
West Virginia is home to dozens of grand old theaters harboring a century’s worth of memories dating back to the days of silent films, vaudeville and more. Whether you’re a student of history and architecture or just a lover of performance arts, you’re sure to enjoy visiting these places. Better yet, find a show you’d like to see, then plan a day trip around your visit!
The tiny mountain town of Spencer boasts a surprising claim to fame: It’s home to the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the country.
The Robey Theatre opened its doors in 1911 during the silent film era. In the late 1920s, it became one of the first theaters in the area to install sound equipment for “talkies.”
Named after theater founder Hamond Robey, the Neoclassical/Italian Renaissance-style building was remodeled in 1926 to alter its façade and enlarge the stage, but the building and its interior have remained largely unchanged since then. The Robey shows films nightly, 364 days a year.
Itinerary: Visit blacksmith artist Jeff Fetty’s iron forge. Enjoy a wine tasting at the award-winning Chestnut Ridge Winery. Plan your visit during Spencer’s annual Black Walnut Festival (Oct. 12-15, 2017) and you can also take in some live music, a carnival, craft show and more.
Legendary actor and comedian Don Knotts cut his showbiz teeth on the stage at the Metropolitan Theatre in Morgantown. After graduating from West Virginia University, Knotts headed to Hollywood to pursue an acting career — one that would lead to the iconic role of Deputy Barney Fife as well as a slew of other famous TV and film characters. As tribute to their beloved native son, the city installed a statue of Knotts seated on a bench outside the Met.
But the Knotts connection is just icing on the cake of this theater’s storied past. Built in 1924, the Neoclassical Revival theater was intended as a scaled-down version of New York’s famous Metropolitan House. Known as “The House of the Pipe Organ” because of the organ accompaniment to its performances, the Met played host to some of the era’s biggest stars including Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.
The Met was closed for a time to undergo renovations, but the fully restored theater is open and operating once again.
Itinerary: Take in a Mountaineers football game and check out the local dining and craft beer scene at popular spots like Black Bear Burritos and Mountain State Brewing Company. Or take a short drive to Coopers Rock State Forest, which offers nearly 50 miles of hiking trails and jaw-dropping views of the Cheat River Canyon.
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice,” the old joke goes. Better yet, just hop on I-64 to Lewisburg, home to one of only four Carnegie Halls in the world.
In 1902, steel baron and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $33,000 to build Carnegie Hall as a classroom building for the Lewisburg Female Institute. The Georgian Revival structure building went through several iterations before it was converted to a regional arts and education center during the 1980s. Today it serves as a hub for live music, theater and the arts in the Greenbrier Valley.
Itinerary: Visit the boutique stores and art galleries that dot the quiet tree-lined streets of “America’s Coolest Small Town.” Tuck into a gourmet meal at Food & Friends or The French Goat. Or grab your bike and take a ride on the scenic Greenbrier River Trail, just a short drive down the road.
Few theaters are as awe-inspiring as the regal Keith-Albee in Huntington. Built in 1928, the 3,000-seat theater was second in size only to the Roxy in New York City.
Today the building retains its original Spanish Baroque style, with a dazzling gold interior intended to mimic a courtyard beneath a starry sky.
Renamed the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center, the theater is now host to the Marshall Artists Series. The venue served as the star-studded premiere of “We Are Marshall,” which filmed partly in Huntington.
Itinerary: Explore early pioneer life at Heritage Farm Museum and Village and shop for treasures in Huntington’s Old Central City district — the “Antique Capital” of the Tri-State. Complete your nostalgic journey with a slaw dog and frosted cold mug of root beer at Frostop Drive-In or a heaping hot plate of spaghetti at Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House, where you can even sit in the same booth where John F. Kennedy once sat.
A visit to the Star Theatre in Berkeley Springs is like taking a step back in time to the 1950s. The theater, which opened as the Berkeley Theatre in 1928, retains a 50s-era retro ambiance — including a functioning 1949 Manley hot oil popcorn machine — but with modern upgrades like air conditioning, digital technology and stereo sound.
After a grand re-opening and re-christening as the Star Theatre in 1977, the brick building that once housed a car storage garage now shows a different movie every weekend.
Itinerary: A visit to Berkeley Springs is not complete without a visit to Berkeley Springs State Park, where you can soak in soothing mineral waters or treat yourself to a massage. Browse an eclectic collection of shops and galleries in this artsy town, and then sit down to a delicious plate of seasonal upscale comfort cuisine at Lot 12 Public House.
This post was last updated on October 19, 2017