Public turns out to boost Smoot efforts

PARKERSBURG – More than 100 people turned out to support the Smoot Theatre Friday evening during the Rags to Riches Benefit Party.

“It is gratifying and fantastic to be here to see all of the support for the theater,” said Smoot Fahlgren, son of one of the original builders of the theater. “It is wonderful for the theater to have been a part of the community and to see what it has meant to people for so many years.”

Felice Jorgeson, director of the Smoot Theatre, said the restoration projects the party raised funds for is the largest she has participated in.

“I did another one of these restoration fundraisers and projects 24 years ago but this one is much larger,” Jorgeson said.

The project plans include interior repainting, insulation of the steam pipes, insulation in the attic, repainting the exterior of Wakley Hall adjacent to the theater, modernization of the heating systems and the replacement of a third of the heating and cooling system in Wakley Hall. There is also listed a new roof for the theater, stage equipment, lighting and exterior fencing.

“It is overwhelming to see what we need,” Jorgeson said. “To see the list and then the cost is astronomical.”

Tickets for the cocktail dress event were $50 a person with funds going toward a matching grant for the projects through the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

The estimated cost of the projects is believed to be about $296,000.

The fundraiser included history stations set up throughout the theater to tell patrons about the building’s past, along with photos of actors and musicians who performed on its stage.

“It is amazing to see the theater today,” said Betty Smoot Dils, daughter of another of the facility’s builders and Fahlgren’s cousin. “It means everything to me to see the support for the theater and the arts.”

The theater was constructed in 1926 and owned by the Smoot Amusement Co., which owned several other theaters in Parkersburg, Jorgeson said. The company owners were President Charles Smoot, Vice President Fayette Smoot and Secretary Julia Smoot Fahlgren.

Fayette is Dils’ father while Fahlgren is the son of Julia. All of Charles’ descendants have passed away, Jorgeson said.

The Smoot was originally a vaudeville house and was purchased by Warner Bros. in 1930.

“I can remember the vaudeville days and how wonderful it all was,” said Dils. “I came here every Saturday night to see the show when growing up and I just love this theater.”

The Smoot House Band performed selections famous in the 1920s and 1930s when the theater was new, including songs from George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.

Other performers for the evening were the Smoot Boys Quartet, the Barbershoppers, Marsha Parsons, Scott Cain, James Borick and Tom Eschbacher.