city on the mend
The sun rises, a blue sky gradually becoming visible among streaks of iridescent clouds. Shadows recede. A new day dawns in the Jewel City, its glimmer tarnished by a decade of depression. The roaches, as the mayor calls them, are retreating. The insidious fog of addiction and crime that has enveloped Huntington, West Virginia, and its residents for years is slowly being beaten back. For years those witnessing its decline from the safety of the La-Z-Boy in front of home TVs and the nightly news have winced at the thought of visiting, let alone living in Huntington, with its streets reputedly crawling with gun-toting drug dealers and prostitutes. Today the city’s scars are visible and fresh wounds await tending, but the healing has begun.
Huntington’s wide boulevards bustled through the 1940s and ’50s with more than 80,000 residents. The population was sustained by the steel and manufacturing industries, buoyed by the rivers and rail running through the heart of the metro area. At the end of a busy work day Huntington’s residents retreated to bedroom neighborhoods—the elite to grand houses abutting even grander parks, and the blue collar workers to snug communities surrounding the downtown business district. The downtown had a proud history: When the Hotel Frederick opened in 1906, it was reputedly the largest hotel in the South. The Keith-Albee, an opulent vaudevillian theater, was built in the 1920s at the cost of $2 million and lit up Fourth Avenue with its live performances and motion pictures. Even through the mid-to-late-20th century, as industry declined and the population began to dwindle, Huntington glittered with big-city attractions and a neighborhood feel. But something changed. Sometime in the 1990s or early 2000s Huntington lost its reputation as West Virginia’s crown jewel for one of a crime-ridden ghetto.