By William “Skip” Deegans
Built by James C. Shanklin and designed by Charleston architect John Norman, Ronceverte’s Grand Theatre opened in 1937 after replacing the old framed Grand Theatre. The new theatre was modern in all aspects with air conditioning, an advanced sound system, and unusual interior acoustical construction. A few seats were equipped with theatrophone equipment so those patrons who were partially deaf could enjoy the performances. The seats and backs were upholstered in gold mohair and varied in four widths.
This week’s 1954 photo shows John Norman, his wife Ruth, his son Jack Norman, and his daughter-in-law Doris Norman. The occasion of the photo is Jack’s graduation from Harvard Medical School.
John grew up in North Carolina, and attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical Institute (now North Carolina State University) and Carnegie Technical Institute (now Carnegie-Mellon). He moved to Charleston and became West Virginia’s seventh licensed architect in 1922. When he designed Shanklin’s Grand Theatre, movie theatres in West Virginia were segregated. African-Americans entered through a side door of the Grand to access the balcony where they were allowed to sit.
The theatre ceased operation in the 1960s and, while still standing, continues to deteriorate.
Photo Courtesy of West Virginia Archives and History from the Norman Family Collection.
Sources: The Covington Virginian; Historic Movie Theatres Of West Virginia by Dr. Kelli Shapiro, Charleston Daily Mail.