Once upon a time, I was living in a small city known as Bluefield. Now, it’s easy to get confused as to where that may be. See, there are two Bluefields. And they exist side by side. On the Virginia side of the border, we have the town of Bluefield, home to Bluefield College, my alma mater. On the West Virginia side is the city of Bluefield, the place where I lived for a year after I graduated.
At the time, I was working for a small, local bank that was only a few blocks from my apartment. It was quite convenient when the weather got bad. And it was Bluefield, so it got bad. At the time, I knew that being a teller wasn’t for me. Of course, that’s a lesson I had to learn again, the hard way, later in my life. Anyway, I knew that working for that small, local bank was not going to be a long term gig. Therefore, if I wanted to stay in Bluefield beyond a year, I needed another reason to keep me there.
In all the time I spent in the Bluefields, I remember thinking it was a shame that the old Colonial theater sat in disrepair. The Colonial sat on the outskirts of downtown on the West Virginia side of the line. It was built in the early 20th century as a full theater, not just a cinema. In the 30s, the building was renovated to give the lobby an art deco style. It continued operating as a theater until 1979, at which point it closed down, never to show a film again.
I wanted to change that. Especially when I saw that the man who owned it planned to sell the place for only $35,000. In my eyes, that was kind of a steal. So I got in contact with the owner and arranged to meet and tour the ancient theater.
That’s when I saw for myself exactly why he was only selling for 35 grand. This man had been using the space to house his junk. I’m sorry… He described himself as an “antiques dealer.” Not having the trained eye of an Antiques Roadshow warrior, all I saw was junk. But that wasn’t the real problem.
No, the true issue with the Colonial Theater was that it needed a new roof. It also needed new walls, new floors, new ceilings, new seats, a new stage, a new balcony… Basically, the place needed to be gutted and completely renovated. The antiques dealer said that he got an estimate for the repairs. To get the place in safe and working order would cost upwards of half a million dollars. $35,000 I was sure I could finance. $500,000? No way.
But I still saw so much potential in the place. My dream was to fix it all up, make it look the way it did when people actually bought tickets to sit in the dark and watch their favorite films. I wanted to transform the lobby into a coffee shop. We would have had sofas and overstuffed chairs and live music. Of course, we could have had live music for larger acts in the theater as well, once the stage was replaced with something that wouldn’t collapse under more than 20 pounds of pressure.
Upstairs, behind the balcony, there was adequate room for an apartment. I could have lived there while I ran the place. It would have been amazing. But it was not meant to be.
Now, I didn’t know a lot about Bluefield or its history, particularly the West Virginia side. During all my years there, even after graduation, I stuck pretty close to the college. I did go to some of the teachers in the business department to get their opinions. The overwhelming mutual opinion was that, most adults would not visit that part of downtown after dark. That would really cut into a movie theater’s chances of making money if customers won’t buy tickets to night shows.
Not long after, I was let go from the bank. I wasn’t fired. They just decided not to keep me full-time after my annual allowance of part-time hours expired. I wasn’t happy about it, but c’est la vie. I moved back to Roanoke and let the dream of owning my own movie theater die away. I still think it would be an awesome business to get into, but I don’t see it happening any time in the near future. Not for me anyway.
One thought on “Colonial Times”
Old movie theaters are way cool. I love the Lyric downtown! Not only is it a movie theater and performance venue, it’s a piece of history. Before I left my home town, the State Theater that had been closed down for decades, got a face lift and is, to my knowledge, pretty popular, and not just for shows/plays; they rent it out for weddings and parties as well. I even worked a fashion show that took place there.
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