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Lost Huntington: The State Theater

December 31, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the 268th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.

HUNTINGTON — In its early years, the old State Theater showed first-run films, such as the 1939 classic “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which starred Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, the cathedral’s hunchback bell ringer, and Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda, the beautiful gypsy girl he loved.

The late Al Cross was the long-time manager of the Hyman family’s downtown Huntington theaters. In a 1974 interview, Cross recalled that in the Depression years when times were tough, local farmers sometimes bartered produce for a theater ticket. Once, he said, he accepted a live chicken in a trade for a ticket to the State.

By the 1950s, first-run moves were few and far between at the State. Instead the theater had been reduced to screening a steady stream of cowboy double features, and that’s the way many people today remember it. Admission for youngsters was 15 cents, and popcorn was 10 cents a box (plus a penny’s tax). Ultimately, live wrestling matches were staged at the old theater.

In 1963, A. Grant Becket, president of the Huntington Trust & Savings bank, announced that his firm would erect a modern bank building on the northwest corner of 4th Avenue and 11th Street. To do so, it purchased the former State Theater and the adjacent Loop Building (once home of the Mayflower Lunch). Soon the wreckers made short work of the two buildings.

In 1972, the bank purchased and demolished the property immediately west of its building to make way for an addition. In 1984, Huntington Trust merged with the First Huntington National Bank and the 4th Avenue bank building was placed up for sale. It sat vacant for more than three years before Marshall University acquired it. Since 1991, the former bank building has been home to the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI).

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