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Under federal law, the developers of projects utilizing federal funds that would impact the activities of a historical location such as the Keith-Albee Theatre have a requiement to conduct a Section 106 study. The study includes way to diminish the impact of a development --- such as a state of the art multi plex stadium cinemas one block away with federal funds --- upon the historical structure. Mitigation may include subsidies by the government and/or devleopers to keep the historic structure maintained and develop feisable re-uses of the property. Since theatres are within the Top 11 of endangered historic structures, the Keith Albee qualifies!

Unfortunately, a historical/environmental impact study Section 106 or otherwise has not been completed by the appropriate authorities. Each of the following should be contacted to let Huntigton's love for its majestic Keith be known: Carol Braegelmann, Environmental Protection Specialist, Federal Transit Administration, 400 Seventh Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590; Telephone: (202) 366-1701 Fax: (202) 493-2478; E-mail:

Ethan Yankowitz, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1785 Massachusetts Avenue N.W. , Washington, D.C. 20036; Fax (202) 588-6272; E-mail:

Karen Theimer, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Suite 809, Washington, D.C. 20004; E-mail:

Susan.Pierce @, W.Va. Dept. of Culture & History, Historic Preservation Office, 1900 Kanawha Blvd E., Charleston, WV 25305; Phone (304) 558- 0240; e-mail: susan.pierce @ or susan.holbrook @

Susan Schruth, Regional Administrator & Cathernine Girthems, Grant Constrol Assistant 1760 Market Street, Suite 500 Philadelphia, Penna 19103 FAX 215-656-7260 Sen. Robert C Byrd 311 Hart Office Building Washington, DC 20510 304-343-7144 (Char. Office)


By Tony Rutherford
Has the State Economic Development Grant Authority and the Federal Transit Authority issued a death sentence to Huntington's Keith Albee Theater? Constructed in 1928 for the then-awesome sum of $2 million, the opulent theater originally hosted vaudeville stage productions and silent movies. With the advent of talking films, the movies still changed two or three times a week and the program included a newsreel, serial, cartoons and coming attractions. While moviegoers in the 1930s and 1940s attended such theaters as the Orpheum (now Cinema 4), the State (which primarily showed westerns), the Roxy, the Palace (now Camelot 1&2 ), the Strand, and the Rialto, Huntington’s Keith Albee was the place to see and be seen.
Today, patrons still gawk and marvel at the Keith. Walking into the foyer, the structure looks more like an art museum or a castle as a movie house. You’re enthralled by crystal chandeliers, gold framed mirrors, winding stairways with steps of Botticino marble, and a sculptured auditorium with a Mediterranean blue dome, adobe plaster and velvet curtain that parts to reveal a huge screen. Jeremy Hines, a Metropolitan Opera basso, said in 1975, “If this were in Europe, it would practically be a national shrine.”
Although most of the grand movie houses have been razed or converted to other uses, the Keith’s marquee has been continuously lighted (except during the 1937 flood and after a fire that gutted an adjoining store). Despite protests, the Keith’s main auditorium was not irreversibly partitioned in 1975 to allow two smaller auditoriums. The move kept the location financially viable. “The main” still seats 1800 with the balcony. “Event” movies never sell out.
During the last 30 years, the Keith, Cinema and Camelot on Fourth Avenue have drawn patrons to a downtown which lost nearly all of its retail establishments to the Huntington Mall in Barboursville. A two-block section on Third Avenue sat vacant, while Huntington leaders proposed an aquarium, an off-track betting facility and an outlet mall.
In the late-’90s, Columbus, Ohio based Steiner and Associates unveiled its plans for a retail and entertainment complex called "Pullman Square." Later, Steiner which developed the upscale Easton Town Center with private funding from the owners of The Limited and from Arnold Schwarzenegger, pulled out leaving the project to Metropolitan Partners.
Pullman includes a 16-screen, stadium seating "megaplex" on the top floor of the parking garage. The theatre will be similar to Park Place Stadium Cinemas across from the BB&T Bank Building in downtown Charleston. Marquee Cinemas, which has a complex at Corridor G in South Charleston, will manage the Pullman theatre which will be built and finished with federal and state monies.
Obviously, the new theater will directly impact the Keith, which has survived on revenue generated from movies to offset maintenance costs of $250,000 a year. In fact, Derek Hyman, president of the Greater Huntington Theater Corporation - whose grandfather built the Keith - indicated that revenues from the Camelot and Cinema have helped subsidize the Keith. In fact, after the mall cinemas opened, the downtown theaters were not very profitable until the Cinema was converted from a single screen, 800-seat venue to a four-screen complex.
For 67 years, the Marshall Artists Series has presented its annual series at the Keith. MAS use of the Keith will end come December. Hyman can not guarantee dates at the Keith after the Pullman opens. Junior Ross, business agent for Local 369 of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, said members of the union will possibly lose jobs from the dislocation of MAS.
Since $27 million in federal grant funds are being utilized in the Pullman Square project, agencies supplying the federal monies are required to comply with federal historic preservation laws to limit and/or offset impacts upon "the activities" at eligible and/ or listed historic properties. These laws include the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, and Section4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. Although the FTA and TTA maintain they have complied with federal laws, an interchange of documents obtained in December and February with the assistance of Sen. Robert Byrd and Rep. Nick Rahall reveal misrepresentations and miscommunications which ignore, minimize or shift blame for adverse impacts upon the Keith Albee.
Vicki Shaffer, general manager and C.E.O. of T.T.A. (administrator of the federal grant), and Paul Davis, assistant general manager, have told the Philadelphia F.T.A. office that the Keith will remain open. However, various broadcast and print media have quoted Hyman regarding the impending closure. “Over the short term, we intend to keep operating as a first run movie theater. Whether the Keith is open or closed, our company does not intend to support the losses for the duration of the lease. If the community is not interested in preserving the theatre, we will study all options, including razing the building and turning it into a parking lot.”
Shaffer contends that the theatre is not on the National Register of Historic Places. Susan Pierce, deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, verified, that in “1986 the theatre was listed on the National Register as a contributing building within the Downtown Historic District.” A contributing listing is the same as individual registration, Pierce said.
TTA contends that they have an unconditional green light from SHPO. FTA says the SHPO gave Pullman a “conditional” finding of “no adverse impact” upon the Downtown Historic District with a warning that the nature and location of the transportation facility could impact “nearby cultural resources” and advised “continued consultation.” No one disputes that Chi Chi’s had no historic value.
Developer Bill Dargusch and TTA officials blame the Hyman’s who were given “first chance” to invest $4 to $5 million of company funds to complete the Pullman theatre. They avoid mention, however, of meetings from the get go that made a Hyman move to Pullman contingent upon acquisition of the Keith Albee by Marshall University. Dargusch, Hyman and former Marshall President Wade Gilley were present when Gilley committed $2 million to buy the Keith. Afterwards, the MU Foundation acquired the land.
Granted, the University purchase would have mitigated adverse impacts on the historic theatre. But without an outside purchaser or a commitment to maintain the theatre, historic preservation issues would have arisen, even if GHTC had moved into Pullman! How much grant money goes for the theatre? Shaffer said the shell is “integral” to the garage design and can not be broken down. Described in some documents as “a great hall,” a line item budget given to Rep. Rahall lists $1.2 million. The state grant originally included “circulation areas and partial fill out of the theatres,” but now $5 million of the $10 million grant goes for theatre completion. Ironically, the purchase price of the Keith was $3 million dollars LESS than the state is paying to finish the Pullman movie complex with economic development funds.
Shaffer, incidentally, blames the City of Huntington for having to seek the state grant. She said Huntington did not “fulfill a commitment” of $7 million to match the federal grant.
Dr. Nicholas Freidin, Marshall University Department of Sociology and Anthropology, conducted archaeological monitoring at the Pullman site. Asked about the Keith he said, "economic impact of Pullman Square certainly would have an impact on the economic viability of the Keith Albee. I am sure that there are artifacts in the Keith Albee that should be saved. But better to keep the structure intact and functioning."
Bill Dargusch, who heads Metropolitan Partners, has been directly or indirectly involved in Columbus projects that angered preservationists. Bexley, Ohio, residents fought Dargusch’s plan to demolish the historic Bexley Theater and replace it with a McDonald's. In the 90’s the building was a giant X-rated video store and the battle became the brunt of jokes, with Jay Leno quipping that the town should combine the restaurant and porn theater for a "really happy meal."
During redevelopment of the Ohio Penitentiary site, preservationists invoked preservation laws. To dodge compliance, the City of Columbus repaid the federal funds. Federal appellate litigation remains pending.
Relying upon Steiner and Metropolitan’s Pullman vision to resurrect downtown can be risky. In January, Steiner notified Tampa, Fla., that they will discontinue payments on a city loan that financed construction of Center Ybor. This development which Metropolitan’s Tim Rollins said was “parallel” to Pullman faces closure due to an abundance of movie screens within ten miles.
As for the Keith, Huntington Mayor David Felinton described it as “a very important historic building” and said that neither the TTA or the Urban Renewal Authority had apprised him that the Pullman would have an impact. MU President Dan Angel said, the futures of the Keith Albee and Marshall Artists Series are “community and administrative decision(s).”
Although structurally sound now, Junior Ross predicts the interior will quickly deteriorate if left to the elements. Tentative closure preparations include cutting utility lines (buried in thick concrete) to the theater's "stage house.
Across the US, cities have rallied behind movie palaces such as the Keith. Cleveland , for instance, was able to reignite downtown by the gradual restoration of four downtown movie palaces which began by performing small live productions in the lobbies. Now, Playhouse Square is recognized as second only to NYC for Broadway-style entertainment. The Keith and Pullman should represent a "win-win" situation for Huntington. But, sadly, if Pullman results in the closure, deterioration or demolition of the Keith (and other historic Fourth Avenue theatres?), then movie traffic has merely been shifted from Fourth to Third Avenue.
Sen. Byrd, who obtained $4.5 million for the theatre in the late 80’s, told me he is “confident that FTA officials will provide every appropriate consideration.” However, the local portion of 80’s grant was not raised and the money was returned to the treasury. Obtaining financing from the federal agencies whose project will put the theatres out of business may be the Keith’s only hope in a community where financial movers and shakers have too much on their plates.
Shouldn't the federal government, grant recipients, and developers be working TOGETHER for the betterment of ALL the city's economic, cultural and historical resources?


Although Huntington often receives complaints for not having enough places to go, the city has an elegant survivor of a golden era when motion picture patrons stepped into ornate cathedrals of amusement. These palace-like structures allowed ordinary people to bask in the opulence of luxury. Unlike major cities that have paved their paradisiacal movie palaces into parking lots, the Keith Albee still offers first run motion pictures, along with its neighbors, the Cinema (former Orpheum) and Camelot (former Palace).

The Keith Albee’s chrysalis of art and beauty burst on May 8, 1928 at 925 Fourth Avenue which had been the Zenner-Bradshaw Department Store and the Huntington Advertiser. When the two million dollar epitome of beauty, rhapsody of richness and symphony in color debuted, the theatre was second in size to New York’s Roxy Theatre. The stage, which measures 45 feet in depth, 90 feet in width and 83 feet in height, was exactly patterned after both the Capitol and Roxy Theatres in New York. When it opened, the Keith seated 1,800 on the lower floor, 1,000 in the balcony and 200 in the loges.

The opening of the Keith marked the zenith in the careers of Huntington showmen A.B. and S.J. Hyman, who humbly began their careers in 1912 at the Lyric Theatre. When the Keith opened, the Hyman brothers also operated the State, Orpheum, and Huntington theatres. A.B. Hyman said at the grand opening, “We have realized our ambition to give Huntington something she is entitled to. Huntington has been kind to us and we are anxious to replay that kindness with real service, such as this house represents.”

Sol Hyman added, “We wish the people of Huntington to feel that this is their theatre. It was built for them… and we hope and believe they will use and enjoy it. Not only now but through the long years. We anticipate that this house and the character of attractions which it will afford will not only appeal to the people of the city, but will draw people to Huntington from a radius of 100 miles around.”

Designed by Scottish born architect Thomas Lamb, the Huntington theatre was one of three similar structures erected under the supervision of the B.F. Keith and E.F. Albee vaudeville interests. The Keith’s sister theatres were Keith’s in Flushing, N.Y. and The Stanley in Utica, N.Y.

Lamb’s specialty had been “exotic, classical” theatres, but with Huntington’s Keith he incorporated the growing popularity for atmospheric theatres that created the illusion of magnificent amphitheatres under moonlit skies.

Lamb’s first Mexican baroque design was the Loew’s Ohio (Columbus, 1928). Lamb felt this design blended “the sumptuousness of Spain and the intricacy and construction of modern art [deco] …a mosaic of gold, silver and red of such complexity that it defies the pattern on which it is built. Its effectiveness lies in its texture of metal stars spattered and superimposed upon a ground of red.” Often described as a “cousin” of the Keith-Albee, theatre historian David Naylor said, “Its as if the Ohio in Columbus had been moved to Huntington but with its roof removed and left open to night sky.”
The Keith-Albee was Lamb’s first Spanish atmospheric vaudeville theatre. The Keith-Albee’s had severak sister theatres such as Keith’s in Flushing, N.Y. and The Stanley in Utica, N.Y. The five million dollar Keith’s Memorial (1928, Boston, Mass., now the Opera House) featured a grand baroque auditorium with a magnificent rococo dome opening to a delicately shaded mural of heavenly Paradise. The Ohio (Columbus) has been considered a “cousin” of the Keith-Albee, too.

Lamb also earlier designed the Palace (Columbus,1926, which Resembles France’s Palais de Versailles), Albee ( Cincinnati, 1927, which reflected a shift to the Palladian classicism of 16th Century Italy, including a mixture of baroque and French rococo.

Superlatives, common for the roaring 20s of affluence, greeted the Keith Albee opening. The Herald-Advertiser called it “a perfect theatre…comparable in every detail with the finest theatres everywhere. Marts, mines and quarries of the four corners of the earth contributed to the luxurious magnificence.”

The outside circular ticket booth was constructed of Verdi antique marble and bronze grills with two antique lanterns for decoration. The main lobby was floored with rubber matting panels with dividing stripes of white Italian marble. The marble base is of imported Belgian black. An advance ticket booth faces a large ornamental mirror. The lobby is filled with amber colored chandeliers.

Approximately 20,000 yards of graystone wilton carpet has been laid on floors in the foyer, auditorium, balcony , mezzanine and corridor. The carpet’s dark red backgrounds contribute to the red and gold color scheme of the big house. A grand foyer 85 feet across and 25 feet deep with a 35 foot high ceiling includes 13 foot x 9 foot mirrors recessed in ornamental plaster. The walls have an abobe finish.

Two 12 foot wide stairways with steps and risers of Botticino marble and railings of ornamental wrought iron lead to the mezzanine. Carpeted and draped with Spanish mission furniture, the mezzanine promenade stretches the length of the theatre.

Three balconies overlook the grand foyer. Drinking fountains are made of Botticini marble. Described as offering patrons a “millennium in convenience,” the rest rooms, cosmetic rooms and smoking rooms reflected luxury.

For instance, the women’s rooms are furnished in Louis XVI styles. Both lounges have fireplaces, candelabra and clocks on the mantels. Mezzo-tints, from the same period, are hung on the walls.
Strolling out into the balcony of the main auditorium, you gaze upon stuccoed walls, Moorish influenced glass windows , and high above on the left and right a Spanish town and garden, including potted evergreens. The great dome is finished in beautiful Mediterranean blue creating a true skyline effect. Fluffy white clouds drifted along the ceiling in seeming movement across a star-studded midnight sky .

Near the stage, huge structures resemble opera house box seats which hid the pipes of the organ. Hung with dark red velvet and gold curtains, the boxes were mounted with Golden Bermini pillars, festooned with cherubs and an assortment of rococo décor. Marble and gilt throughout has been compared to the grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was Rome.

The gold-framed lobby mirror high in the archway across from the balcony lounge typlifies the baroque opulence of the 20s. Indeed, the bronze gilded frames of mezzanine mirrors over small Romanesque tables and the beaded fringe and tasseled pulls of the lushly decorated floor lamps reflect light in small golden pools.

[Though air conditioning had yet become commonplace, the theatre boasted a sophisticated seven unit ventilation system with a battery of fans to ensure proper temperature and air circulation.]

The Keith has double fire doors on both sides of the building, a fireproof projection booth quarters, and an automatic sprinkler system for fire hazard reduction.

During construction, two million bricks, 550 tons of steel, 97 cars of cement, and 15 cars of plastering were used. Except for the stage floor , the entire building is constructed of brick, concrete and steel. The lobby is 30 x 55 feet. The main auditorium measures 155 x 120 feet.

On opening night, Nineteen ushers in dark red uniforms with gold buttons escorted patrons to their seats. The Keith had its own eight piece orchestra conducted by Joseph Koreberger and a Wurlitzer organ played by H.B. Brown.


During its history, the Keith has survived a natural disaster and adapted to changing times.

In January 1937, the Ohio River engulfed downtown Huntington (and beyond). The Keith, along the Orpheum, State, Rialto, Roxy and Palace, all closed January 23, 1937. Theatre employees created a sandbag dam around the building. As the waters turned the Fourth Avenue business section into a canal, the seats and other main floor artifacts were moved to the balcony. During the flood, only the Margaret Theatre on 8th Avenue and 20th Street remained open with Dick Powell and Joan Blondell in “Stage Struck.” The Keith and other downtown theatres did not re-open until February 6-7, 1937.

Culture graced the grand ole’ house for the first time in 1939, as the Marshall Artists Series, organized in 1936, moved to the Keith. The Marshall Artists Series with its annual mixture of symphonies, concerts, Broadway shows, and operas continues to call the theatre its home.

Vaudeville faded when the movies began to talk. The Keith installed … first sound system name…. When new outdoor theatres offered a wider variety of concessions, the Keith installed a stand.

But the theatre’s greatest challenge resulted from television’s impact upon the motion picture business. As neighborhood theatres shut their doors, Hollywood filled larger motion picture theatres with wide screen musicals and epics. Where once the features changed every three days , studios demanded that features run for multiple weeks. Neither cinemascope nor cinerama would save the large now antiquated structures. One by one, the grandiose 3000-5000 seat theatres across the country closed. Most succumbed to “progress” --- making way for parking lots! Financial angels rescued a few lucky structures. These progressive minded individuals saw the wisdom of converting the former movie theatres into multi-use performing arts centers to assist in revitalizations of downtown areas.

During the 70s, the Keith faced its own financial crisis. Although groups formed to “save the Keith,” the Hyman family tastefully converted the “lady” into a three screen movie complex by forming smaller auditoriums from the east and west portions of the main auditorium. Later, a fourth screen was added in former retail space that faced Fourth Avenue.

To celebrate its 50th Anniversary, the theatre hosted Rudy Valee and a variety of other acts graced the stage simulating a vaudeville performance. Dustin Hoffman visited the theatre for a benefit performance of “Rain Man.” Motion picture producer John Fiedler, a Marshall University graduate, hosted benefit premiers of “The Beast” and “Tune in Tomorrow.” A restored version of the campy “Teenage Strangler,” a movie shot in Huntington, had a belated “world premiere” at the Keith more than 20 years after its production.

Sol and Abe Hyman had much of their personality built into the Keith. Their heirs --- Jack Hyman and Derek Hyman --- have successfully maintained and tweaked the structure. Now, in the 21st Century, the theatre remains a monument to their memory and an invaluable advertisement to Huntington.

(The writer relied in part on “Were You There When The Stars Came On” by the late Bill Belanger, fine arts editor of the Herald-Dispatch, “The Keith Albee Section” from the May 6, 1928 edition of the Herald-Advertiser, and David Naylor’s “American Picture Palaces” and “Great American Movie Theatres” in composing this history