Star Theatre in Berkeley Springs set to reopen following renovations
The Star Theatre has received a facelift and is ready for its close up.
For 91 years, the Star Theatre has been the heart of downtown Berkeley Springs, W.Va. Jeanne Mozier and her husband, Jack Soronen, were the stewards of this piece of Berkeley Springs history from 1977 until they handed over the reigns to new owners Sean and Jackie Forney in April.
Mozier said the physical demands of running the theater were wearing on the couple after 42 years.
“It’s interesting that Sean is the same age I was when we bought and reopened the theater originally. We had a plan B to hire folks to do the work if we couldn’t find the right buyer, but fortunately the right buyer appeared. I told the Star, this was its future so it needed to find the right owner to carry on. And it did,” Mozier said.
Jackie Forney said she and her husband bought the Star because they envisioned a family-fun business where their girls could grow up learning the value of work.
“Also Sean and I both grew up coming to this theater and have always known it to be a huge hit of the town,” Jackie said.
The couple waited four months before deciding they were ready to put their stylistic mark on the theater. Two weeks ago, the couple closed the downtown theater to allow construction crews - guided by Allen Omps - time to work on everything from new wiring and HVAC systems to remodeling bathrooms and the concession area. The exterior of the century-old structure had its brick repointed, new white mortar applied and the iconic marquee repainted.
The grand reopening is set for Friday, Aug. 16, with a ribbon cutting by the Berkeley Springs Chamber of Commerce at 5 p.m. followed by a free open house from 5 to 7 p.m. The regular movie will then be shown with doors opening at 7:30 p.m. The movie chosen for the grand reopening is “The Lion King.”
When crowds arrive for the grand reopening, the most dazzling change will be the entry foyer.
“We wanted to recreate the feeling of the 1930s when movie audiences dressed in their best suits, dresses and fedoras to go to the cinema,” Sean Forney said.
When guests enter, they may notice the gleaming white area with a night-sky ceiling covered in sparkling star lights. One of the showcase pieces is the original ticket window now visible on the North wall. It is for display only and not to be used. That honor remains with the antique cash register that has a top price of $9.99 and has been in use at the Star since its initial grand opening in 1977.
A special find was the slatted wood ceiling in the foyer, which has not been seen since the 1949 remodeling by the Alpine theater chain which closed what was originally an open foyer. Sean said he is most proud of uncovering another original architectural feature while transforming the 1916 car storage garage to a movie theater in 1928. The archway pattern marks the entry into the theater’s auditorium and was also covered in the late 1940s. The original trim has been retained.
“We were shocked to discover what the dropped ceiling in the outer lobby hid,” Mozier said, “and even more shocked to realize the lobby had once been open.”
The concession room has also received attention, including the addition of granite counter tops and an eye-catching backsplash of thin tile strips of silver, black and light blue with a section formed to resemble a waterfall.
“No one should be concerned. We’ve kept the popcorn machine and the silver radiators,” said Sean. “That’s been our goal in all the renovation, to stay true to the historic feel but add new amenities.”
Movie-style klieg light fixtures cast ambient light on the wall decorations that are an array of movie posters, old and new, and a sampling of press clips from the 42-year history of the Star Theatre. There is new carpet in the auditorium as well as a rebuilt ceiling over the stage area. Popular couches remain for seating although they are now new red leather.
Bathrooms have new plumbing and a unisex bathroom is ADA accessible. Tile floors replace carpet and sport a giant star. There are larger sinks but the 1940s-style movie starlet wallpaper in the ladies room remains intact.
“We wanted to keep as much of the history to the theater throughout renovating because that’s what makes the Star, the Star. The wallpaper in the women’s bathroom is one of the first things I think of when I think of the theater and its look of being vintage. We didn’t want to change any part of it to make it modern, just freshen up the overall appearance,” Jackie said.
Mozier said if she and her husband were younger and planning to keep the Star another couple decades, they would have done some of the infrastructure renovations.
“But the glamour touches Sean is doing — it’s all them and quite cool. I am pleased that some of the iconic touches like the starlet wallpaper in the ladies room will remain and think the tile and big star on the floor of both bathrooms is a fun renovation,” Mozier said.
“We want people to be able to see the legend that Jack and Jeanne created,” said Sean. “We’re committed to being worthy stewards of the Star’s place in the community.”
Moviegoers will notice that the reasonable ticket prices and family-friendly fare is unchanged even if the faces behind the cash register and popcorn machine are much younger.
“Our girls love working the theater,” said Jackie who praised her oldest daughter Scotlyn’s expertise with making popcorn.
“We’re really proud that on the eve of our reopening, the Star has been named by The Herald-Mail newspaper as one of the five Best of the Best movie theaters in the region,” said Sean.
“’The Lion King’ was chosen because it is a huge hit but also because the original is one of my first movies I remember seeing at the Star as a kid and how neat the live action came out the same year we bought it,” Jackie said.
Tickets based on the original 1977 grand opening tickets will be available for those attending.
“We’re working hard to make new memories as good as the old ones,” Sean said.