Opened in 1912 by Consolidated Amusement Co., the Plaza Theatre was marketed as the home of high-class vaudeville entertainment and novel attractions. In 1919, the building was sold to United Theater Enterprise, operated by Charles and Fred Midleburg of Charleston and A.B. Hyman of Huntington.
Prior to the theatre's reopening in 1921, the building was remodeled and redecorated. Among the changes were the addition of a Wurlitzer pipe organ and the installation of a projector room. A 30 foot electrical sign and a marquee extending over the sidewalk were added on the front of the building. The facility was then renamed Capitol Theater, a silent movie house and a vaudeville showplace. Billed as "Screenland's Christmas gift to Charleston," Capitol Theater's grand opening was on Dec. 26, 1921. Gov. Ephraim Morgan attended the opening festivities with a program consisting of a newsreel, a comic short and Rupert Hughes' film, "The Old Nest."
Theater at Risk
According to historical notes of Morgan Peyton Heiskell, "The turning-point for vaudeville at the Capitol occurred at 1 o'clock in the morning of Thursday, Nov. 15, 1923, when taximan Roy Cart reported that the Capitol Theater was on fire." The facade of the theater was not badly affected but the roof of the auditorium had collapsed. The loss was estimated at $150,000 to $175,000. The owners decided to rebuild immediately. By then, the Capitol faced competition from the Kearse Theater, also located on Summers Street. With the advent of "talkies" in the late '20s, all of Charleston's theaters were wired for sound by mid 1929. Orchestras and live stage shows were suddenly things of the past. A changing economy, competition from multi-theater cinemas and the deterioration of the Summers Street business district were blamed for the Capitol Theater's closing in 1982.
Theater Rescued as Capitol Plaza
In August of 1985 the building reopened as the Capitol Plaza Theater with James P. Bazzle as a general partner representing 28 local investors in the partnership, Capitol Renaissance 84-1 LTD. The 1983 loss of the Kearse Theater, which was razed to become a parking lot, was a contributing factor behind this purchase. Bazzle's goal was to develop the property into a community performing arts center. The building was also cited as a key component in the plan for redevelopment by the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority. Capitol Theater, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was the former home for "Mountain Stage," a live performance radio show broadcast by West Virginia Public Radio, as well as other events.
West Virginia State College Capitol Center
By 1991, the Capitol Plaza Theater was struggling with an outstanding debt. A decision was made that it would have to close its doors forever by the end of the year. A few months prior to the end of the year, representatives of the Charleston Renaissance Corporation met with West Virginia State College officials to discuss the College's taking over the building. Although the College was amenable to the idea, it required that the facility be debt free. The debt was forgiven and in November 1991, the building was given to West Virginia State College (now University) through its Foundation. The community would be able to continue to use the facility and the College would have a downtown presence to extend its educational and cultural programs.