Editor's note: This is the 126th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington landmarks.
HUNTINGTON - People tend to think of Marshall University's Old Main as one building. But actually it's a series of structures that were erected over the decades and then joined together. The first was built in 1837. The final section - which gave the structure its iconic exterior appearance - was added in 1907.
The 1907 addition included an auditorium that was used for an incredible 85 years. The auditorium was 60 by 84 feet in size, with a stage that was 18 feet deep and extended the auditorium's full 60-foot width. The floor was inclined and originally seated 600 folding beech opera chairs. A second floor balcony contained 400 oak chairs.
In its earliest years, the auditorium's seats were individually assigned to students, with male students obliged to sit on one side of the aisle and female students on the other.
Over the decades, the venerable Old Main auditorium was the scene of literally hundreds of student productions. The auditorium's first student shows were staged by the Harlequin Club in the 1920s. A final student production, "Hay Fever," rang down the curtain for the old auditorium in 1992.
In addition to student productions, Old Main auditorium featured performances by some of the greatest names in entertainment who visited the campus to perform - Basil Rathbone, Claude Raines, Agnes Moorehead and John Fontaine, to name just a few.
Marshall's Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center opened in 1992, with a modern 530-seat theater auditorium, an experimental theater and rehearsal rooms. At that point, Old Main auditorium was deemed no longer needed and so was dismantled.
Dr. K. Edward Gross, MU's vice president for administration, told The Herald-Dispatch the old theater had long since outlived its usefulness. "If it was OK and satisfactory, then we would never have built a replacement," he said.