A beloved, century-old theater in the heart of Clarksburg makes a second comeback this fall.
When the amazing Kreskin performed at the Robinson Grand Theater in downtown Clarksburg in the early 1990s, the famous mentalist set himself a suspenseful challenge: If he couldn’t figure out which audience member held his paycheck, he wouldn’t be paid for the evening’s entertainment. Mayor Jim Hunt handed the check to a fellow attendee in secret. Kreskin made a show of considering the wrong part of the audience, but then walked over to the person who had the check. Was Hunt in on the trick? “I was not and still do not know how he did it,” Hunt wrote recently to the operators of the Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center, set to open this fall. “Quite a fun memory!”
The Robinson Grand first opened its doors in 1913. It was part of the Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit and hosted such acts as Jack Benny and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. In the 1920s, it became among the first theaters to install the sound equipment for “talkies.” When a 1939 fire destroyed most of the stage and house, longtime proprietor Claude Robinson had the stylish new $600,000 reconstruction done by Christmas. The theater operated into the 2000s and is the site of many fond memories for people living in Clarksburg today. The city bought it in 2014 and took on a modernization project.
The $15 million renovation updates the stage rigging, lighting, and sound and projection systems while keeping the theater’s architectural character intact. “We’ve tried to preserve as much as possible from the 1939 rebuild after the fire,” says Executive Director Ryan Tolley. “We have beautiful terrazzo floors in our lobby and leading up to our second-floor bar that we’ve restored and brought back to their original luster. We were able to preserve decorative ironwork in handrails on the stairs. We’ve replaced the heating and cooling, but we’ve kept the decorative air diffusers that were previously used for heating and cooling the building—they kind of look like large spaceships—and highlighted them with some lighting. They’re probably one of the main things people remember from the past.” Two restored carbon arc projectors on display recall the theater’s romantic history. And all seating, restrooms, and passageways have been updated for convenience and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
The updated Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center celebrates its grand opening on October 20 with well-known rock band The Guess Who and entertainer Jay Leno. The fall line-up includes a variety of family and classic films, music performances, and stand-up comedy. 444 West Pike Street, 304.624.1683, therobinsongrand.com
photographed by Carla Witt Ford