Clarksburg Landmark To Be GRAND Again?

Article by Leigh C. Merrifield, Shinnston News & Harrison County Journal; published August 7th, 2014


Once a grand theater in Clarksburg, many may remember watching movies here ‘back in the old days’ and some of today’s young adults may recall performing here as children.Now excitement is generating to make the Robinson Grand “grand” once again, to modernize it and make it multifunctional while maintaining its historical elements.

The City of Clarksburg has many sites in its downtown area that are historic landmarks, and plans to bring one in particular back to life are stimulating lots of positive feedback! According to Clarksburg Mayor Cathy Goings, it has been one of the goals of the current Council to purchase the former Robinson Grand Theater (also later known as the Rose Garden Theater) located on West Pike Street. That sale was finalized on May 29th, and since then Clarksburg City Council has acted even further by awarding the architectural package to WYK Associates of Clarksburg.

“Council has long felt that an important aspect of redeveloping our City would be to include some cultural aspects to enhance the revitalization of the downtown area,” said Mayor Goings.“ We feel that this acquisition will do that, and WYK has already enlisted the help of a team of experts who specialize in theater redevelopment. With their advice and expertise, we are moving forward on this and hope to soon learn what options we may be able to pursue.”

The Robinson Grand Theater was originally built in 1912 at a cost of $40,000.It was the 13th theater in the U.S. to be wired for sound, therefore making it an especially popular source for entertainment when “talking pictures” evolved. Destroyed by fire in 1939, it was rebuilt a year later at a cost of over $600,000. Now, in the next century, its renovation will still strive to preserve its historic value … although it will undoubtedly be costly!

James Swiger, President of WYK Associates, confirms that among the specialists involved in this project are theater consultants, historic consultants, acoustic consultants, lighting designers, structural engineers, mechanical and plumbing experts, and professional cost estimators, to name a few. “We are in Phase I now, which is an evaluation and assessment of the building and we are in the process of coming up with design concepts.Our goal is to make it user friendly, comply with current codes, and add modern amenities, while still keeping the historic integrity of the building,” Swiger stated.

A Harrison County native himself, Swiger is excited to be working on this project – just a couple of blocks from his office. He noted that projects like this don’t present themselves often – especially in the city where you work!Just like many people from the local area, he recalls attending movies at the Robinson Grand, so he is particularly thrilled to be involved in bringing it back to life. Swiger calls the project a very specialized endeavor with varied and numerous challenges; however, he added that a big plus is that the building has “good bones”, is well built and structurally sound.“

However many systems will need to be replaced,” he says.“ It will need all new electrical, plumbing, lighting and mechanical features. It has been empty for some time now. When it was purchased years ago and became known as the Rose Garden Theater, it had been cleaned up, painted and a few changes were made. However, it was not completely modernized. We are now looking at interior improvements like what the stage needs, lighting, curtains, dressing rooms, restrooms, floor finishings and carpet, adding a bar and concession stands and a caterer’s kitchen – all to make it a valuable and multi-functional venue for modern day society.”

The theater has approximately 12 different floor levels; the basement alone has three different floor levels, according to Swiger.“ It will definitely present challenges for elevators and handicap accessibility!” he continued. “And there is a ballroom in the building as well, which could stand alone or be used in conjunction with the theater. For example, the ballroom could host a catered event to tie in with a movie or concert being presented on the main floor the same evening. There are so many possibilities!” Currently the theater has a seating capacity of roughly 1,200. This will be somewhat reduced when new seats are installed because they will be wider and spread apart somewhat for the sake of comfort, Swiger explained.

“It is truly a special place that will have the capability of being used for a wide variety of specialized programs – formal events, children’s activities, recitals, concerts, plays, all sorts of activities. It will be capable of serving as a cultural center for about an 8-9 county area – a great boost to Clarksburg and the entire region,” Swiger said. WYK has done a 3D scan of the entire facility inside and out to learn how it is built. Swiger reported that exterior upgrades will probably be minimal in order to keep the look and feel of the theater in its “early days”. Exterior upgrades will however include sidewalk improvements, upgrading the marquee, and the addition of a convenient loading dock with a hydraulic lift at the rear of the building.

The firm has also met with potential users of the theater such as schools, theater groups, community band representatives, etc. to determine how they see the structure being used and what suggestions they have for additions that might enhance their use of the facility. All these things have been considered and will be presented to Clarksburg City Council on August 21st. Some renderings as well as cost data will also be offered at that meeting. The next phase will then be to work on construction documents so it can go out to bid.

“A lot will depend on funding,” Swiger conveyed.“ However, an optimistic view – if things go well with funding in place – might be that the theater up and running again could be achievable by late 2015. And definitely, our hope is to make it grander than ever!” Mayor Goings confirmed that the City intends to aggressively pursue this project and is hopeful of attaining some cultural grants to help with funding.She added, “ One of the other projects the City is working on is a hotel/conference center that would go hand in hand with the theater. It would not only be able to offer sleeping facilities to visitors to our City, but also host conferences as well as provide nightlife and entertainment. These capabilities would certainly enhance tourism in our region.”

Community support for the Robinson Grand’s restoration has been very positive, Goings concluded.“ John Nardelli, who is in charge of the City’s Public Relations, has been posting various snips on our website that reveal the stages of development on this project. It is a good place for the public to go to learn about the project’s development.”

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