Capitol Theatre (Wheeling, West Virginia)

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Capitol Theatre, Wheeling

The Capitol Theatre (also known as the Capitol Music Hall) is the largest theatre in West Virginia and a landmark building in the national historic district of downtown Wheeling. For many years, it has served as the home of Jamboree USA and the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. Jamboree USA, a Saturday night live country music show broadcast on WWVA 1170 AM from 1926 until 1977, was the second-longest running radio show in the United States, second only to the Grand Ole Opry. The live music show annually drew hundreds of thousands of country music fans to Wheeling, where both local acts and nationally known celebrities such as Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Charley Pride would perform.[1]

History[edit]

The Capitol Theatre, designed by architect Charles W. Bates of Wheeling, was built by general contractor R. R. Kitchen at a cost of US$1,000,000 and first opened on Thanksgiving day 1928. The theatre initially presented movies and stage shows and later concerts by the Wheeling Symphony Society, which moved into the building in 1929. The radio station WWVA staged its first Jamboree show production at the Capitol in 1933. However, the Jamboree moved the venue to the Victoria Theatre after a year at the Capitol and the symphony followed thereafter, feeling that showing movies detracted from the musical performance.[2] After the theatre stopped showing movies, the symphony returned to the Capitol in 1961, followed years later in 1969 by the Jamboree, which had tried several different venues since the Capitol, the longest venue being the Virginia Theater. In the subsequent years, the Capitol experienced major success as the Capitol Music Hall. In 1969, WWVA moved its studio to the Capitol building, where it produced and broadcast its Jamboree music shows. The Jamboree, the show later recast as Jamboree USA, and the theatre was renamed the Capitol Music Hall; it experienced major success and drew supporters from throughout the tri-state area.[2]

In 2006, Clear Channel, which had purchased 1170 AM and the Capitol building, cut the program due in part to declining popularity, and later closed the theatre after the building failed an annual safety inspection in the spring of 2007 and was assessed with a list of fire code violations. In addition to the theatre, the Capitol Building included a ballroom, shop and recording studio, and also housed Clear Channel's other five radio stations in the region (including WWVA) which continued to use the building after the theatre was closed. WWVA now has a Saturday night "Studio 1170 Sessions" in place of the original Jamboree USA. The Wheeling Symphony has also been playing in various other venues during this time. To address the code requirements, it was estimated that the building needed a minimum of two million dollars in repairs and renovation. Clear Channel sold the building to Live Nation, which in May 2007, put the building up for sale for US$850,000.[3] On February 5, 2009, the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) announced that it would purchase the then-Capitol Music Hall from Live Nation at a cost of $615,000. The purchase was finalized on April 3, 2009. [4]

Nearly every artist in country music has played on the Capitol's stage at one time. Artists such as Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens, Patsy Cline, Mel Tillis, Charlie Daniels, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Kenny Rodgers, Ronnie Milsap, Reba McEntire, Kenny Chesney, Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker, Charlie Pride, Brad Paisley, Aaron Tippin, Waylon Jennings, Brooks & Dunn, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, Tracey Lawrence, The Statler Brothers, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sammy Kershaw, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, Mark Chestnutt, Neal McCoy, Sugarland, Willie Nelson, John Anderson, Joe Diffie, David Allan Coe, and Alabama only begins to list the country artists that have played on the Capitol Theatre's stage. Other acts such as Ray Charles, Black Sabatth, Blue Oyster Cult, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 3 Doors Down, Ted Nugent, Larry the Cable Guy, Rodney Carrington, George Carlin, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Jeff Foxworthy, Jerry Seinfeld, David Copperfield, The Lettermen, Jay Leno, and many others have done shows at the Capitol Theatre. This year,[when?] Broadway shows made their return to the Capitol Theatre with four shows: STOMP, The Drowsy Chaperone, CATS, and Jesus Christ Superstar. All four of these shows were extremely successful and popular with fans.[citation needed] Past Broadway shows at the Capitol Theatre have included Hairspray, Guys and Dolls, Little Orphan Annie, and many others.

Restoration[edit]

In early 2009, after the 81-year-old, 2,400-seat theater had been closed for nearly two years, a group of local organizations partnered together and purchased the theater from concert promoter Live Nation for US$615,000. Initially, the Ohio Valley Area Development Corporation will take title of the property. The coalition of local groups, which includes the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation, Regional Economic Development Partnership and the City of Wheeling, has undertaken to raise $8 million to restore the building, which is seen as a central piece of revitalizing the downtown entertainment district.[5] The Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority, which now operates the theatre, has seen tremendous success[clarification needed] in its first year of operation. Numerous shows have played to sold-out crowds over its first eight months since its re-opening. By the end of 2010, theatre will offer new expanded concessions and lounge area (mid-May 2010), new larger handicap-accessible restrooms (mid-May 2010) an elevator, and a remodled ballroom. The newly remodled ballroom will be easily accessible by the new elevator and will be open before many events as a restaurant. This area will also be available for rentals for receptions. This area may also feature smaller concerts, dances, and comedy acts.[needs update]

References[edit]

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