What now marks West Virginia State’s presence in downtown Charleston is a building that has gone through a lot since it opened its doors in 1912. The Plaza Theatre was the home of high-class vaudeville entertainment and novel attractions in Charleston. It did not last long though, for after only seven years since it opened, it was sold to the United Theatre Enterprise in 1919.
The building was remodeled and redecorated, taking two years until it opened again in 1921 as the Capitol Theater. The theatre was installed with a Wurlitzer pipe organ, a projection room and a 30-foot electrical sign and marquee extending over the sidewalk. It opened with much fanfare on the 26h of December, attended by Governor Ephraim Morgan. The renovated theatre was primed to show silent movies and vaudeville. During its opening, it entertained the audience with a newsreel, a comic short and a Rupert Hughes film, “The Old Nest.”
The theatre suffered a fire in 1923, and though its facade wasn’t badly affected, the roof of the auditorium collapsed. The owners of the theater was quick to have the building rebuilt, this time having the theatre wired for sound, as the time of the “talkies” came to peak. With stiff competition in the area, and the decline of interest for live stage shows, the theater was slowly closing in on its demise. Befor closing in 1982, the Capitol Theatre screened it last major movie, “Star Wars.”
It opened again in 1985 as the Capitol Plaza Theater, with a goal to develop the property as a community performing arts center. A key component in the redevelopment plan of the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority, the Capitol Theater was included in the National Register of Historic Places.
Unfortunately, despite all these, the Capitol Theatre still struggled with financial problems, and was set to close its doors permanently in 1991. However, it was rescued, thanks to the efforts of the Charleston Renaissance Corporation and the West Virginia State College, who took over the building. The debt of the building was forgiven, and in 1991, the State college formally took over through its foundation. Today, it now serves as an educational and cultural facility for the University and the community. The building is now fitted with five classrooms and a computer lab for class and workshop purposes. It retained the 800-seat theatre, which is an ideal venue for stage plays, musical and other stage performances. The WV State University Capitol Center also plays host to the West Virginia International Film Festival, which shows a variety of artistic films that doesn’t screen in other Charleston theaters.
West Virginia State Capitol Center Theatre
123 Summers Street
Charleston, WV 25301
Phone: (304) 342-6522
Fax: (304) 766-5718