With Roaring 20s parties emerging over the past several years and continuing to be on trend as 2020 approaches, I am often asked: "When did you develop a love of the 1920s?". The fashion, hair and makeup of the Gatsby Era flaunted an oddly appealing gaudiness that is perpetually fun to recreate. And, of course, the music of Ellington, Gershwin and Irving Berlin (to name a few) made this time in America's music history one of the best of all times, in my opinion. Classics such as the Charleston, Star Dust and Someone to Watch Over Me continue to be exquisite illustrations of our Great American Songbook. But my fascination was inspired by the passion and dedication of two of my family members, Felice and Kent Jorgeson, who helped save the Historic Smoot Theatre in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
The Smoot Theatre has been part of the fabric of the community of Parkersburg, WV, since 1926. Originally a Vaudeville theatre, it was purchased by Warner Brothers in 1930 and was used primarily as a movie house for the next 56 years. The Smoot was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1982.
By 1989 the theatre had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for the wrecking ball. Saving the Smoot became the focus of a group of volunteers from the Parkersburg community. Felice Jorgeson was at the helm of the project. She and her husband, former conductors of the Parkersburg High Big Red Band, along with a group of community members worked tirelessly to save and restore this historic landmark. The restoration revealed the beauty of the gilded era of the 1920's, invaluable photos and memorabilia of silent film stars such as Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin and the iconic Art Deco details of the Smoot's proscenium and marquis.
Today, the Smoot Theatre boasts a full calendar year of live entertainment - from big band jazz, ballet, comedy acts and more - private guided coffee tours and, annually, continues the tradition of the ever-popular Camp Vaudeville for kids.
Many volunteer hours, private and corporate sponsors later, the Smoot Theatre stands today as a grand tribute to 1920s American history. I am proud to say that a portion of the Smoot's legacy is a part my family and home state history. For an interview with Felice Jorgeson, director of the Smoot Theatre, click here. To learn more or to donate, click here.