MOUNDSVILLE — Few communities as small as Moundsville can lay claim to a treasure like The Strand, a near-100 year old theater that in its heyday played host to everything from Vaudeville acts to minstrel shows, plays and movies.
Built in 1920, the theater took eight months to build, cost approximately $100,000 and was considered state-of-the-art for its time. It ran first-run movies for decades, as many as five different shows each week, and still found time to showcase other entertainment forms, as well.
The theater closed in 1968 and sat idle for eight years before reopening in 1976. But after a 20 year run, The Strand closed again in 1996 for what could easily have been the last time were it not for four dozen or so community-minded volunteers. Those volunteers gave their time, effort and money during the past 12 years to see the theater restored to its original elegance.
Strand Preservation Society President Dave Knuth calls it a "labor of love."
"We had some people come in for two or three years, some hung in for four or five years," Knuth said.
"Eventually, many of them decided to retire or resign because of the demand on them, the sacrifice of personal time to see that the theater gets finished. There are only two of us who have been in it since the start, at this point."
The restoration, overseen by The Strand Preservation Society, began in 2000 and has been a top-to-bottom overhaul: So far volunteers have installed new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, installed new restrooms, replaced the plaster ceiling, cleaned the chandeliers, painted the entire building and restored the intricate detailing inside and out, including removing burlap that someone over the years had stapled over the original plaster and murals.
Society members are still about $400,000 away from being done. They still have to finish installing floor coverings, seats, sound and lighting equipment. But Knuth said when it's all done, Moundsville will have a 500-seat theater sporting modern-day conveniences while retaining its 1920s vibe.
The price tag has already hit the $1.2 million mark. Federal and state funding helped the Society acquire the theater, and during the past eight years approximately 60 percent of the funding — roughly, $685,000 — has come from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
Local industry, business and community residents contributed the rest of the money. Corporate supporters include PPG Industries, Chesapeake Energy, the National Endowment for the Arts, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, West Virginia Commission on the Arts and the Moundsville Economic Development Council.
"The goal of our board of directors is to have events in there that, eventually, will interest everybody in the area," Knuth said. "We want it to be a place for people to go and have an enjoyable night out right here in their own home town. As executive director of the Marshall County Chamber of Commerce, my main objective is to put this facility back in service to enhance economic development here in Marshall County. That's what's going on right now."
These days, he said they host everything from educational programs and entertainment geared to the needs of area schoolchildren to the weekly Wheeling Jamboree, special shows and community events.
"It was a very cold and scary place 12 years ago," he said. "Today, it's very warm, very comforting to be in that theater."