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The Keith-Albee in Huntington was one of the most lavish motion picture houses ever built and, with 3,000 seats, was said to be second in size only to New York City’s Roxy. The ‘‘$2 million temple of amusement,’’ as a contemporary newspaper account called it, was built by Huntington businessmen A. B. and S. J. Hyman in the 900 block of Fourth Avenue, on land that had been occupied by the Zenner-Bradshaw Department Store and the offices of the Huntington Advertiser newspaper. The Keith-Albee was designed by New York architect Thomas W. Lamb, working with the local firm of Meanor and Handloser. The theater was affiliated with the Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit, which booked the entertainers for its big stage.

The Keith-Albee’s May 7, 1928, opening program featured screen star Reginald Denny in a comedy called Good Morning, Judge, a newsreel, and five stage acts. But the theater itself, with its elaborate interior, giant golden stage curtain, ceiling studded with stars and clouds, 19 uniformed ushers, eight-piece orchestra, and a mighty Wurlitzer organ, clearly was the star of the evening.

The theater was designed for live entertainment as well as motion pictures, and continues to offer both. In recent decades, the Keith-Albee has not only attracted film fans but also has been home to the Marshall Artists’ Series, which each year presents touring Broadway shows, dance companies, and musical groups. Both The Bridge at Remagen and We Are Marshall had their United States premiers at the Keith-Albee. Heirs of the Hyman brothers continued to operate the Keith-Albee until 2006 when the Keith-Albee Foundation took ownership. Since then, the foundation has been raising the necessary funds to rehabilitate the building, now called the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center. Roofs were replaced, HVAC installed and the sign repaired over a 10-year period. The original pipe organ was found in North Carolina and purchased by a volunteer in 2010. In 2018 the refurbished Wurlitzer Opus 1780 organ was lowered into its place in the pit. Refurbishing seats and furniture continues under the foundation’s $2.6 million “Take A Seat Under the Stars” program.

Written by James E. Casto