The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 7, 2012

City contemplates restoration of historic theater

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

RONCEVERTE — A crumbling historic theater in the center of town may one day be restored to its former grandeur, thanks to the efforts of the Ronceverte Development Corporation (RDC) and the cooperation of city officials.

Designed and built by renowned West Virginia architect John Norman Sr. in the mid-1930s, Shanklin’s Grand Theatre was placed on the state Preservation Alliance’s list of endangered sites last year.

Doug Hylton, former RDC executive director and Ronceverte’s long-time grant coordinator, told City Council Monday evening that he believes he can secure grant funding to have an engineer examine the structure and an architect draw up plans for restoration of the long-abandoned building.

The catch is that Hylton advised city officials they had to agree to accept ownership of the weather-damaged facility before the grant application could be submitted.

And the catch to the catch is that the Grand’s most recent owner, Darrell Williams, who four months ago agreed in principle to donate the property to the city, has since died without completing the paperwork to transfer the deed.

According to Hylton, however, the sister of the deceased man has in her possession a letter Williams signed indicating intent to make the donation. Therefore, the deed cannot be transferred to the city — which Williams’ sister hopes to do — until the late owner’s estate is settled.

Hylton promised Council that the estate will pay off any liens or debts remaining against the property before the donation is finalized.

He also assured Council that, if the city agreed Monday to accept the donation at such time that the estate is settled and all stipulations about liens and debts are met, he can proceed with the grant application and have the building inspected.

Council member Crystal Byer raised the issue of the city’s liability if Ronceverte were to take ownership of the badly deteriorated three-story structure.

“It seems like a horrid insurance risk,” Byer said, adding, “It’s a scary building. It’s a beautiful building, but it’s a scary building.”

City administrator Reba Mohler said she is still in the process of getting an insurance quote on the property.

Asked by an audience member what public use the old building could have if it were rehabilitated, Hylton pointed out that the West Virginia University Design Team that visited Ronceverte suggested the Grand could be used as the headquarters for the city’s arts programs.

Included in those programs are dramas performed at the Island Park Amphitheater, Hylton noted.

He also said a portion of the building could be used as a recording studio, and the former movie theater space could be equipped with a stage for use by the students at area schools.

“It could be an art center for our little community,” he said.

If the engineer’s report, when completed, indicates the restoration project would be too great a financial burden on the city, the structure could be demolished, Hylton acknowledged.

Council member David Smith seized upon that concession and made a motion to accept the building from Williams’ estate, saying, “The worst thing we’d have to do is tear it down.”

The motion passed unanimously.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com