Cox building donated to Actors Guild of Parkersburg

The former Cox Department Store building, where most recently the YMCA operated its downtown fitness center, has been donated to the Actors Guild of Parkersburg by Realco LLC. (Photo Provided)

PARKERSBURG — The former Cox Department Store building on Market Street, where most recently the YMCA of Parkersburg operated its downtown fitness branch, was donated to the Actors Guild of Parkersburg.

The building abuts the Actors Guild Playhouse at 724 Market St.

Realco LLC gave the building to the community theater group at a March 29 closing held in the lobby of the Actors Guild theater.

“They donated the building to us,” John Newton, treasurer of the guild Board of Trustees and a member of the committee which organized the acquisition, said.

The YMCA board of directors in August announced the closure of the fitness center effective Sept. 1 after Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia discontinued a lease and its financial support of the facility. Operations were relocated to the YMCA on Broad Street.

Nicole Raber of the Raber Law Offices, standing, and Barbara Full, president of the board of trustees of the Actors Guild of Parkersburg, sign the documents in the lobby of the theater to accept the former Cox Department Store, 715 Market St., that abuts the guild theater at 724 Market St. (Photo Provided)

Among the first orders of business is to prepare the first floor so it can be rented for public uses such as meetings or receptions to generate income for the guild, Newton said.

“And, since we always need money, we are also looking at the possibility of renting out some of the space,” said Barbara Full, president of the Actors Guild board of trustees. “For years, we have been wishing for more space and this is, in many ways, a dream come true.”

An area that could be used for dance instruction and other fitness programs is separate with access from the rear and can be easily isolated from the main area of the first floor, Newton said.

The basement of the building will more than likely be the first to be utilized for storage of props, set pieces and equipment that are at present stored at another location, Newton said.

The upper floors of the building will need work to ready them for use, he said.

“Nothing is in stone at this point,” Newton said.

A committee of guild members, Dave Roberts, R.J. Lowe, Brent Null, Natalie Bradley and Betty Dotson and Technical Director Bartolo Cannizzaro, is studying potential uses for the building. The possibilities include smaller shows that don’t use the full stage, called half-shell performances, dinner theaters that would need to be catered, Guild Builder activities, guild meetings and educational uses, Newton said.

“The kind of things we can do more of,” Newton said.

Downtown PKB, the group dedicated to the betterment of downtown Parkersburg, will help the guild with ideas to generate income from the possible use of the upper floors, Wendy Shriver, executive director of Downtown PKB, said.

“The whole block has just blossomed,” she said.

Acquisition of the building opens additional possibilities for the guild to expand, Shriver said.

“We’re excited for them,” Shriver said.

Newton initially contacted Realco and Realtor Holmes R. “Butch” Shaver about getting the building donated to the guild. It was first offered to the YMCA, Newton said.

“We are tremendously excited about this,” Full said. “Our members have shared many ideas and thoughts with us about how to best use the space: an additional performing space perhaps used for cabaret-type performances, dinner theater, classrooms for our educational component with Guild Builders, props, costume, and furniture storage.”

Members of the committee which organized the acquisition were Newton, Roberts, Cannizzaro, Mike Corra and Nicole Raber. The Raber Law Offices provided the legal services in the transaction, Newton said.

Cox Department Store in Parkersburg closed in the early 1980s.

Cox stores were established by Artemus W. Cox. He became a teacher, and owned a general store in Clendenin, then moved in 1914 to Charleston where he purchased a department store owned by George Ort, James Morton Callahan wrote in the “History of West Virginia, Old and New, Volume 3,” published in 1923.

The store on Capitol Street was the first Cox Department Store in a chain that operated in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia. Cox, with partner Wehrle B. Geary, also founded The Diamond department store and the Daniel Boone Hotel in Charleston.