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The Apollo Civic Theatre
The Apollo Civic Theatre
The Apollo Civic Theatre is rich in history.
"Miracle on East Martin Street"--that's what everybody says after they have been to the Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg, WV. The Apollo is definitely a miracle. The theatre has stood through two world wars, a depression, an economical boom, and many other major events. The Apollo Civic Theatre represents two things--the beautiful building and the wonderful theatre organization.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Martinsburg did not have a lot going for it. There was one thing, though, that kept this town going--the theatres. There were a number of motion picture houses and show places including the Strand and Central Opera House. The Central Opera House had been a fire show place, but by 1910 it had deteriorated badly and was in need of replacement. The Strand was also in bad shape and later torn down.
At about the same time that the Central Opera House was being torn down, Edgar Thorn, the son of Harry Peter Thorn and Mary Elizabeth (Livers) Thorn, died suddenly and most tragically. Because this brought such sorrow to Mr. Thorn, his wife, Mary urged him to get involved with a project that would occupy his time and his mind.
The project that he chose was the replacement of the old Central Opera House. The Thorns saw the need for a building in downtown Martinsburg that would meet all the pleasures of the community. This place would present motion pictures, plays, touring shows, such as Vaudeville, music groups, singers and comics, and also provide large rooms suitable for community dances, balls, cotillions, wedding receptions, conventions, styles shows, business meetings, and space for private schools such as dance.
Soon after the Thorns' decision, Mr. Thorn commissioned Chappie Kent, a local architect, to prepare plans for the new facility. Mr. Kent, in turn, commissioned Mr. Reginald Geare, a Washington D.C. architect, an expert on designing theatres and known for designing the grand Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington.
The building of the theatre started when Mr. Thorn took title to the property on March 9, 1912. The building was on the corner of East Martin and Spring Streets. The theatre was finished in 1913. It has a full basement, which has been used throughout the years for heating and storage. The street level first floor is the main auditorium floor with 509 seats that are used for motion pictures, live performances, conventions, and other meetings. This floor includes a balcony across the rear and down the two sides to the stage area. The second and third floors, also known as the "Roseland" and "Thornwood Hall", were designed as large rooms for the community's social and entertainment affairs.
Besides changing management many times, the name of the theatre has also changed. The community theatre organization was started in 1936 under the name of "Martinsburg Little Theatre". Just before World War II, the Little Theatre was incorporated and the name changed to the "Town Cinema" and then it was changed to the "Berkeley County Civic Theatre" and stayed that way until 1987. World War II caused the theatre to lose most of its male members. The organization was not very active until a group of the original members reactivated it in 1971. Then, in 1972 during the bi-centennial, a group of community members participated in the "Echoes from the Valley", which was held at Corbourn Field on June 19th through the 24th in 1972, led many more people to the theatre.
Realizing the importance of preserving the theatre structure, the group purchased the Thorn Building in 1975 and has since been involved in an extensive renovation program. In 1979, the BCCT was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1989, the theatre was renamed the "Apollo Civic Theatre" and the name has stuck since. The ACT believes that the theatre belongs to the community and can only be successful if the entire community supports and utilizes the facility.
Today, the theatre is still very active. There are five major live performances produced by the theatre every year plus all of the other shows that rent the theatre for their use including motion pictures, country singers, children's theatre, the Miss Berkeley County Program, and the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival. The theatre also holds a Children's Theatre Workshop in the summer for kids between the ages of 8 and 18
The theatre is still a place were the community can come to relax while watching a favorite play or to work hard putting together a show for the rest of the community. Many people have grown up at the Apollo and spend any free time they have there. The theatre has proved to be one of Martinsburg's most valuable places and as long as there is someone who remembers it, the Apollo will never die.
It truly is a "Miracle on East Martin Street".
The Apollo Civic Theatre is located at 128 East Martin Street, Martinsburg.
The above historical information was compiled by Rebecca Hutchcraft and Sarina Burgos (taken from www.apollo-theatre.org, and edited for formatting).
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