By Courtney Fint Zimmerman, Aurora Research Associates LLC
The Robinson Grand Theater first opened its doors on February 7, 1913. The theater was built by the Clarksburg Amusement Company, a corporation formed in 1912 by Robert Lafferty, president, Claude Robinson, vice-president, Charles Alexander, secretary-treasurer and Reuben Robinson, manager.
Brothers Claude and Reuben “Rube” Robinson, originally from Louisville, Kentucky, had been involved in the theater business from a young age. Claude began his career selling programs in the Macauley Theater in Louisville for $1 a week. At age 16, he moved to New Orleans for employment as treasurer to two theaters and ten years later, moved to New York and managed in succession the Grand Opera House, Liberty and New Amsterdam theaters. Less is known about Rube’s life, but by 1907, he was boarding at the Waldo Hotel and working as manager of the Grand Opera House in Clarksburg. A 1927 newspaper article noted that the Traders Grand Opera House had been destroyed by fire around 1910, leaving the city with no large venue for shows. It appears that Rube recognized the opportunity in a town that was “show hungry.” He convinced Claude, who at the time was living in New York and managing the New Amsterdam Theater, to invest in a new theater in Clarksburg. Claude moved with his wife Carolyn and young daughter Dorothy to West Virginia. Rube was also founder and president of the Wheeling Bill Posting Company (later the Ohio Valley Advertising Company); soon after the Robinson Grand was opened, Rube shifted his focus to his advertising business and left the theater’s management to Claude.