by Aila Boyd
The historic Buchanan Theatre, originally the Star Theatre, was approved to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. The decision was handed down in Richmond last Thursday.
In the past, the Town of Buchanan considered placing an easement on the theatre. Discussion to do so eventually fell to the wayside, Harry Gleason, downtown revitalization program manager for the Town of Buchanan, explained.
“An easement helps to guarantee the protection of a historic property so that it will maintain its character,” Gleason said. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that if a structure contributes to a historic district, it isn’t eligible for an easement. It has to be independently listed, something that the decision last Thursday did. The only other structure in Buchanan that’s independently listed is the Wilson Warehouse, a structure that was completed in 1839.
Prior to Thursday, the theatre was one of 250 contributing resources to the Buchanan Historic District. The form listed that the “property is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history” and that the “property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.” In the historic context portion of the nomination form, it’s noted that F.W. and Lillie T. Steger, a Princeton, W.Va. couple, sold the lot that the theatre was eventually constructed on to John F. Shank in March of 1912 for $3,000.
The theatre was constructed between 1917 and 1918 by the Shank family before being remodeled in 1949 by the new owners, Jack and Homer Jackson. As part of the remodel, a brick front, a pair of art deco cast concrete plaques and a modern marquee were all added. The silver screen of the theatre was dimmed in 1985 by then owner Wayne Thompson following a significant flood that took a toll on the Buchanan area. The theatre slowly started to creep back to life, starting in 1999 when Dale and Gloria Carter purchased the facility. Standing Room Only, a nonprofit organization, was formed to manage the operations of the theatre, which allowed for the screen to come to life once again in November of 2001. “The Majestic” was chosen as the theatre’s first showing following the reopening, a fitting choice considering that the film centers around a smalltown, much like Buchanan, movie theatre.
As for future renovations, Gleason explained that the right side balcony could potentially be reinstalled. Right now, the area that used to be the second balcony seating area functions as a storage room. Luckily, he said, the seats were removed but not discarded. Other potential renovations include the restoration of the neon sign on the front of the theatre, as well as the original fabric that covered the walls and the gilding. In addition to the announcement last Thursday, the theatre also has an upcoming event to honor the Carters. Gloria passed away last year. A bronze plaque will be unveiled on Jan. 5 at 1 p.m., Dale’s birthday. “With his diagnosis [lung cancer], we felt it was important to do something to recognize their contribution to the community,” Gleason said of Dale, who passed away last month. In the past, stars were placed in the theatre. Over time, the stars have fallen apart. “We really wanted to do something permanent,” Gleason said. “We did get to show Dale the plaque just before he died.” A free screening of “The Majestic” will follow.