Historic Keith-Albee Theatre Turns 85 Years Old

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The iconic Keith Albee Theater is 85 years old. The landmark vaudeville palace is a testament to craftsmanship and a bygone era.

The team at WSAZ thought, what better way to celebrate a birthday than with an 85-year-old Huntington native?

"Oh, you know, I had forgotten how pretty it was," Dennis Osburn said. "A lot of work went into making this, and there aren't many left."

Osburn, 85, is retired from Steel of West Virginia and has lived in the region for much of his life.

"We used to come down here when I was kid to see a movie" Osburn said. "Then we'd ride them back. That was 17 miles each way."

What Osburn told us, we tend to forget or not realize at all. Back then, many of the roads in town were brick. Osburn lived in the Beech Fork area of Wayne County, and much of that trip to Huntington was on dirt roads.

"It's an engineering marvel," Dr. Bob Osborne said. He has been instrumental in the incremental restoration that continues
each day at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.

For starters, he's located and returned the original Wurlitzer organ.

"It took 550 tons of steel, two million bricks and 20 carloads of plaster," Osborne said. "It's standing 85 years later, much like it was in 1928."

Earlier this month, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin presented a check to the Keith-Albee for $300,000. That money has gone to needed repairs for the roof. The next big items on the "honey do" list include an electrical and plumbing overhaul.

David Tyson, a Huntington attorney, oversees the Keith-Albee Foundation. He says the "nip and tuck" required is deep on the inside that most folks won't notice.

"Before we do pretty things like seats and stage," Tyson said, "we have to do things to keep the building in place."

Osburn appreciated the backstage tour. It's been a long time since he stepped inside. The black and white memories of his youth came back in living color, and for a few minutes on a Wednesday afternoon, time stood still.

"Naturally, I've never done this before," Osburn said. "This has been worth it all, what you've done for me today. To get in here, it's a treat."

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