The Roxy Theater (1933-1952)
Backstory and Context
For years, downtown Huntington’s 4th Avenue was home to the city’s finest movie theaters. While the famous Keith Albee still stands today, fewer residents are likely to recall the Roxy Theater that was once down the street at 1037 4th Avenue. The theater began as the Strand Theater, which opened in 1926. By 1933, however, the once-popular theater had closed. That year, C. Bertram Hukle, who owned several other theaters in the Tristate area, purchased the Strand with plans to fully renovate it. He also renamed the old theater the Roxy, one of the most popular names for theaters in the United States at the time. “Roxy” was a nickname of Samuel L. Rothapfel, a famous American showman and theater entrepreneur. By giving his theater such a name, Hukle tied Huntington’s own Roxy to the legacy of Rothapfel’s grand movie palaces.
The Roxy opened on August 31, 1933 with a screening of “A Bill of Divorcement” starring John Barrymore and Kathrine Hepburn. The theater had a single screen and a capacity for nine hundred audience members. Hukle had given the theater a complete renovation, with cutting edge sound and projection equipment, as well as a modernized interior. While the Roxy offered moviegoers a luxurious experience, the theater also endeavored to attract customers with deals and discounts. According to an ad for the new theater, movies cost only 10 cents before 6 p.m. and 15 cents after 6 p.m. - about $2 and $3 in today’s dollars. Such a deal may have helped draw customers to the theater, away from the Roxy’s many competitors on 4th Avenue. It was a few doors down from the Orpheum (later Cinema) Theater and the Keith Albee, and just across the street from the Palace (later Camelot) Theater and the State Theater.
Together with these classic downtown theaters, the Roxy formed part of Huntington’s theater row. In the days before multiplex theaters, it was normal for cities like Huntington to have a variety of single-screen movie theaters, each one offering a different movie at any given time. Some even became known for showing a certain movie genre, like dramas or westerns. For many years after its opening, the Roxy showed first-run movies, but by its later years the theater became known for showing double-features. In 1949, Hukle and other theater owners sued the City of Huntington for imposing an amusement tax “for each person attending any public amusement or entertainment conducted within the corporate limits of the city for private profit or gain.” The Cabell County Circuit Court sided with the theater owners in Hukle v. City of Huntington and suspended the tax. The city then appealed the case to the West Virginia Supreme Court, but ultimately failed.
Despite Hukle’s victory in court and his subsequent freedom from the amusement tax, his theater remained in business for only three years after the case. On August 25, 1952, disaster struck the Roxy when the theater caught on fire. At the time, it was showing what would be its last films: a double-feature of "The Pride of St. Louis" and "The First Time." Although the structure was not destroyed by the fire, the Roxy never reopened after the disaster, likely due to the cost of repairs. Following the fire, the theater building was acquired by City Savings and Loan, which removed the auditorium’s seats but kept the marquee. In 1976, the Huntington Urban Renewal Authority demolished the former theater and several adjacent buildings to make way for a municipal parking lot, which remains at the site today.
Casto, James E.. Lost Huntington: Roxy Theater, Huntington Herald-Dispatch. July 18th 2016. Accessed December 12th 2019. https://www.herald-dispatch.com/special/lost_huntington/lost-huntington-roxy-theater/article_e0af6bae-1968-55f8-8765-4c94ab29f043.html.
The Herald-Dispatch. Roxy Theater stood on 4th Avenue until fire destroyed it in 1952, Huntington Herald-Dispatch. September 27th 2011. Accessed December 12th 2019. https://www.herald-dispatch.com/news/recent_news/roxy-theater-stood-on-th-avenue-until-fire-destroyed-it/article_f7dc10a8-c0ac-52bd-b587-4f9495b69d0e.html.
Hukle v. City of Huntington, 134 W. Va. 249
Who is this Roxy fellow and why are so many theaters names after him?, The Atlanta Fox Theatre. April 9th 2013. Accessed December 12th 2019. http://dobywood.com/FoxTheatreAtlanta/Roxy.html.