Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 21, 2013

Renovations to Bluefield landmark underway

GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Power tools hummed as workers removed old doors, letting sunlight into the cavernous space of a downtown Bluefield theater that had not seen the sun for a long time.

Preparations are being made to get the old Granada Theater on Commerce Street ready to host the bluegrass band Blue Highway, one of the performers scheduled Aug. 31 for the Bluefield Lemonade Festival. Members of the Bluefield Preservation Society were at the theater Tuesday morning to see what needed to be done.

“It’s going to be part of the permanent renovations,” said Julie Hurley, vice president of the Bluefield Preservation Society.

People coming into the lobby can see where the offices and ticket booths were once located, and a stage and upstairs booths are visible in the theater itself. City Manager Jim Ferguson came to see the work and recalled his visits to the Granada years ago.

He remembered how he and other boys redeemed Double Coal bottle caps for theater tokens that let them see the Granada’s Saturday matinee for free. The theater revives memories at all levels.

“For a lot of people, this is where they had their first date,” Ferguson said, adding he had his first date with his wife, Sarah, at the Granada. They saw the movie “Hard Time” starring the late Charles Bronson.

Sara Helmadollar, the preservation society’s secretary, said people visiting the Granada on Aug. 31 would need to understand how long the renovations will continue. The work now underway is only the beginning of the restoration process.

“It’s just getting started, and we have a long way to go; but we’re confident that this community can get this done,” she said.

Private donors have helped to finance the work, and the preservation society is applying to local foundations for funding, Hurley said. Meanwhile, there is a large theater to explore. Just off the lobby is an old-fashioned spiral staircase descending into darkness. Hurley said she had not gone down it yet.

The preservation society also has plans for Commerce Street and nearby Raleigh Street. Light poles outside the Granada will be replaced with 10 new railroad-style light fixtures, and new awnings will be erected. Plans call for naming the area the Depot District.

Other plans include turning the former AAA building on Commerce Street into a West Virginia museum, and moving part of the Eastern Regional Coal Archives, now housed at the Craft Memorial Library, to the museum. This would make the collection more accessible to researchers, Hurley said.

Options are being considered for the former Mutual Insurance Building, a structure located between the library and the AAA building. What can be done in the Depot District depends on available funding.

“We have all kinds of options,” Hurley said. “We’re trying to preserve as much as we can.”