The Metropolitan Theatre in Morgantown, WV is one of that city’s best examples of Neo-classical Revival architecture. The 1,300 seat theatre opened on July 24, 1924 with “seven acts of vaudeville sent by the BF Keith Amusement Company from its New York Office.” Over the years Gene Autry, Peggy Lee, Count Basie, the Andrews Sisters, Bob Hope & Bing Crosby, and Duke Ellington all graced its stage.
The theatre hosted both live acts and films. Owner George Comuntzis installed a $50,000 “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ in 1928 to provide accompaniment for that era’s silent films. The Met was one of a handful of theatres around the country to show films on a pre-release basis, so that production companies could gauge response. As an “index town,” Morgantown was privileged to see new movies as early as 60 days prior to national release.
The theatre also sponsored games that were played on the screen for cash from the mid – 1930s to late 1940s. One such game was “Wahoo,” a spin game projected on the screen in which a button would be pressed by those in the audience causing the spin; the jack pot increased by $25/week, and, when the spin stopped, the Comuntzis paid whatever percentage (l00%, 50%, 25%, 10%) showed on the screen.
“Bank Night” was another popular game; those entering the game daily signed a journal opposite a number, which was placed in a large drum. On “Bank Night” a number would be drawn for each $500 increment in the jackpot, and if the winner was in the audience, he or she received the cash immediately.
Bank Night caused quite a controversy nationwide, in fact. “According to figures released last week, gross box-office receipts for the cinema industry in 1936 were a billion dollars, $250,000,000 more than last year,” reported Time magazine on Jan 11, 1937. “A contributing reason was undoubtedly ‘Bank Night’—currently a weekly fiesta at 5,000 of the 15,000 active U. S. cinema theatres.
“Bank Night is a copyright scheme invented by a onetime Fox booking agent named Charles U. Yaeger, who leases it to theatres for from $5 to $50 a week depending on their size. What it amounts to is a clever evasion of state & municipal lottery laws whereby, by registering his name at a theatre, a patron becomes eligible to win a substantial prize if he is present at the theatre on ‘Bank Night’— when the prize is awarded to the holder of a lucky ticket after a drawing on the theatre stage.
“Since Bank Nights started in 1931, Inventor Yaeger’s enterprise has grown from a two-room office to a Denver building and a chain of theatres. [Bank Night is] perpetually under fire from state and municipal authorities who hope to find some way in which to bring it under local lottery laws. In Topeka, Kans., the Supreme Court ruled that Bank Night as practiced by certain Fox Theatres was illegal. In Albany, N. Y., the Court of Appeals ruled Bank Nights legal.”