THE KEARSE THEATER

Another treasure gone....

Kearse


When the Kearse Theater opened in Charleston in 1922, it was considered the finest facility of its kind in the Kanawha Valley. The work of Mills and Millspaugh Company of Columbus, Ohio,  it was designed for stage shows as well as for movies.

Kearse Theater Charleston WV

The Kearse in it's heyday.  See the full size image HERE

( Photo courtesy of  Brian Lowery )



The facility brought Charlestonians not only the best silent films, but vaudeville acts,  road shows, concerts, operas, stage plays and, in 1928, the first  talking pictures.  It was equipped with the latest in projection equipment, a feature which was continually  updated through the installation of a Cinemascope screen in the 1950s.

A pit for the orchestra which accompanied the silent films was a prominent feature , and the Kearse orchestra, directed by Mr.Shallabarger, was widely renowned in the state.

A magnificent Austin concert pipe organ featuring huge wind chambers integrated into the building's structure , was the largest individual item of expenditure in the construction of the lavish Kearse Theater. The organ was the largest concert pipe organ remaining in a theater in West Virginia. and was still there right up to the time of demolition.

The most important feature of the Kearse Theater, which stood largely unaltered, was a significant example of the theater and moving picture house architecture of the early 1920s.

The Kearse was one of only a handful of old commercial buildings in this condition yet standing in Charleston.

Moving pictures of the occasion were made and shown throughout the country. The Charleston
Gazette/Daily Mail stated that "never before, in the history of the theatrical business, has a theater opening been attended by such a gathering of statesmen.  
West Virginia governors E . F. Morgan, William A. MacCorkle and Wesley A . Atkinson, and Mayor Grant P.Hall of Charleston participated in the gala opening of the Kearse November 26, 1922.

Newspaper accounts indicate that the opening of the theater was expected to provoke a rejuvenation of Summers Street.

In addition to the theater proper, the building housed two floors of clubrooms and ballroom space. Many civic clubs, including the B'nai B'rith and the Knights of Columbus had headquarters in the Kearse Building, and a number of dance clubs , including the Charleston Cotillion , regularly scheduled dances and balls there. The Kearse Theater stage was used by the armed forces to put on demonstrations during the Second World War. Regular Opportunity Night events during the decades following the war saw amateur performances by countless talented Charlestonians who were, or went on to become, prominent citizens of the community.

The main floor of the theater sloped down to the stage and originally had 31 rows of radial seating. There were four aisles, two on the far outside and two between the center section of seating and the side seating. Each aisle seat was made of cast iron and embossed with a "K"

The mezzanine seating had 10 rows. This balcony level also included 2 raws of boxes, of which 8 were higher and 17 were lower and extended down the sides of the theater . Box railings had
plaster ornaments of panels and encircled quatrefoils (
A representation of a flower with four petals or a leaf with four leaflets, )  on them. Both the main floor and the balcony had four sets of exit doors on each side of the theater, for a total of 16 sets.  At the very back of the auditorium was a projection booth entered from a small metal stair at the top of the seating area.

The ceiling was decorated with plasterwork in a variety of designs including interlocking arches and moulding dotted with bosses. Large gratings of cast plaster could be seen in the ceiling above and on either side of the proscenium opening. These cover openings,  through which the pipe organ's sound entered the room.

There was an orchestra pit in front of the stage.  The proscenium has a 38'-0" opening  
(the part of a modern theater stage between the curtain and the orchestra (i.e., in front of the curtain) and the stage is an average of 35'-0" deep. The back of the stage was at an angle conforming to the angle of the street at the rear . Beyond the wings are the organ wind chambers and two l e v e l s of six dressing rooms, each with a window. There was also a large door through which large equipment could be brought in .






Kearse Theater

1981







Kearse Charleston WV
Look closely at the top two photos on this page and you will see these masks near the top of the Kearse building.  These were saved,  and now part of a garden setting in South Hills.  A few doors down the street are the domes from the very top of the Kearse building. They have been made into gazebos.....

Kearse Theater Charleston WV
Somewhat of an optical illusion,  this gazebo stands fairly tall.




Kearse organ


 Kearse Theater

Last interior photo of the Kearse just before it was torn down in 1982.




Kearse Theater

1982



Kearse Theater Charleston WV

n


BACK