Keyser Stories of Yesteryear: Movie Houses
By David Shapiro
Special to the News Tribune
KEYSER - When you drive down the business section of Keyser today, especially Main and Armstrong streets, you see many empty buildings. At one time, most of those buildings had flourishing businesses. Some people remember these businesses, and some do not. My intent is that this series of articles will inspire memories of these businesses. Last month, I started the series by featuring my own business, Shapiro's Stores. This next article focuses on Keyser movie houses of the 1900s.
Part 2: Keyser Movie Houses
During the 1930s and beyond, there were three prominent movie houses in Keyser: The Music Hall, The Keyser Theatre, and The Liberty.
On April 29, 1939, the Music Hall was purchased by Newton B. Carskadon for $36,550. First-run movies were featured at the Music Hall. Also, Saturday matinees, weekly series, and western movies starring Roy Rogers and Hop-a-long Cassidy were shown.
Soon to follow was the opening of The Keyser Theatre, located on Main Street. It was the most modern motion picture theatre in this section of West Virginia and Western Maryland. Newton B. Carskadon was named manager of The Keyser Theatre; he had previously managed the Music Hall. For his opening attraction, Mr. Carskadon featured the recently released picture “In Name Only,” starring Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, and Kay Francis.
Short subjects, including Walt Disney cartoons and Paramount Newsreels, were also shown. Two pictures were shown each week at the new theatre.
Admission was 15 and 25 cents for matinees and 20 and 30 cents for evening performances. In commenting on the new theater, Mr. Carskadon said he felt... “that there was not another theatre within a radius of 100 miles that would compare with it in style, comfort, and design.”
Many local subcontractors contributed to the beauty of The Keyser Theatre, including plumbing and heating by Vincent Lacy, sheet metal by Arthur “Suede” Wells, and electricity by M.E. Minnich. Mr. Carskadon employed several local persons to help run the everyday operations of the establishments, including William Spots as the operator;. He had been operator at the Music Hall for ten years. Others involved in running the theatre were Margaret Greenwade as cashier and Charles “Butsey” Randalls as assistant manager and doorman.
The largest crowd to view a performance at The Keyser Theatre was for the picture “Jaws” in 1975. The line waiting to get into the theatre that day went around the corner of Main and Piedmont streets, reaching clear back to the post office. The theatre later became a skating rink when they quit showing movies.
Stephen Settimi bought the building in 2017 and opened
“The Indie on Main,” which features an artist studio, movies, meetings, plays, open mic, and many other venues of entertainment.
Another movie house, The Liberty Theatre, was located close to the corner of West Piedmont and Mineral streets and also drew crowds of people to the movies. The Liberty had a much more modest decor and seemed to be in a state of repair, featuring movies that drew younger crowds, such as “The Ghost of Frankenstein.” Also, the very reasonable and plentiful popcorn was a huge draw.
The movie house was owned by Olan and Christine Thrush, who were a very likable couple. They also owned the custard stand on the corner of Fort Avenue and Mineral Street called, “Custard’s Last Stand.”
The Music Hall, The Keyser Theatre, and The Liberty are treasures of the past. It is unlikely that we will ever see movie houses like these return in our lifetime. The expanding network of television, Netflix, and YouTube have made their marks on entertainment, but none of these compare to the ambiance of movie houses of yesteryear.