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RICHMOND, VIRGINIA

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Partial History
of
Richmond, Virginia Theatres

 
 
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Richmond Theatre (original)

The original Richmond Theatre on Shockoe Hill was built in 1786. It was destroyed by fire in 1811, with loss of 72 lives. Elizabeth Poe, 24 year old mother of Edgar Allan Poe, performed on the stage of the original Richmond Theatre for the last time in 1811.  Elizabeth is sleeping at St. John's Church in Richmond.

ORIGINAL RICHMOND THEATRE, 1811
ORIGINAL RICHMOND THEATRE, 1811

 
 
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Marshall Theatre

A new theatre built at 701 E. Broad Street that replaced the original Richmond Theatre was referred to as "The Theatre" from 1818 to November 14, 1838, and after that year referred to as The (John) Marshall Theatre. Mr. William Wirt, the writer of Patrick Henry's 1775, "Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death" speech, invested his personal money along with (Chief Justice) John Marshall in the new Marshall Theatre in 1818.  Junius Brutus Booth, the father, made his American debut on the Marshall stage in 1821. The Booth family performed on the Marshall and later on the (New) Richmond Theatre stage. Contrary to reported history, John Wilkes Booth, a favorite in Richmond, was never captured, escaped to Australia and lived for another twenty years.  Evidence would indicate his efforts were financed by northern interests.

MARSHALL THEATRE, 701 East Broad Street
MARSHALL THEATRE, 701 East Broad Street, circa 1840s

Richmond's (circa 1836) first railroad station was located on the southwest corner of 8th and Broad St. Railroad tracks ran west on Broad St. The first engine was custom made in England.

 
 
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Richmond Theatre

The (John) Marshall Theatre was destroyed by arson fire in 1862 and was replaced by a "New" Richmond Theatre in 1862. The "New" Richmond Theatre was the premier Confederate Theatre in America. Great actors and actresses in America trod the boards of the Marshall and Richmond Theatres. Little English actress, Miss Sallie Partington, "Sweetheart of the Confederacy" entertained Lee's Army and the Confederate Cabinet at the Richmond Theatre.  Then a word of caution was uttered by John Wilkes Booth against those that would desecrate that theatre and land at 701 East Broad Street.
 

RICHMOND THEATRE, 701 East Broad Street
Photograph after 1865

RICHMOND THEATRE 1880s.
View north from the stage of the Richmond Theatre.

 
 
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Mechanics' Hall circa 1958
 
(The) Varieties , a theatre on East Franklin Street, near the Exchange Hotel. Circa 1858.
 
 (The) Academy of Music circa 1858

 Mozart Hall

MOZART HALL - built in 1886

 
 
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 Lyric Theatre

The Lyric Theatre - at 9th and Broad Street was built in 1913 as a vaudeville theatre and later called the WRVA Theatre, the home of the Old Dominion Barn Dance radio broadcasts with Sue Workman aka "Sunshine Sue." 

THE LYRIC THEATRE
Southeast corner of 9th and Broad St.

WRVA OLD DOMINION BARN DANCE 1951
WRVA OLD DOMINION BARN DANCE 1951

 
 
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Mosque Theatre

Mosque Theatre - was built in 1928. Frank Sinatra made his first Big Band debut there with Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1941, and returned to his beginning to make his last performance there on March 5, 1994.

THE MOSQUE

The City of Richmond bought the Mosque Auditorium in recent years. The black majority City Council said on public television the name Mosque may offend the black Muslims by calling the theatre auditorium a "mosque." Therefore the City of Richmond changed the name from The Mosque to Landmark Theatre.

 
 
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Bellevue Theatre

Bellevue Theatre - 4026 MacArthur Ave., opened September 1937 and closed in 1963. Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine lived in Ginter Park, when they were children and attended the Bellevue Theater during the 1940s. The Carter Sisters, June, Hellen and Anita also attended the Bellevue Theatre during the late 1940s. The Bellevue is now used by the Shriners organization for meetings and dinners and is known as the Samis Grotto Temple.

BELLEVUE THEATRE, circa 1936

BELLEVUE THEATRE 1936

THE CARTER SISTERS - WRNL RADIO. 1946.
June/Helen/Anita+Mother Maybelle w/Doc+Carl
The Carters lived on Cliff Ave at Ladies Mile Rd

Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine
shirleymaclainewarrenbeatty.jpg
Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine

 
 
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Brookland Theatre

Brookland Theatre - 115 W. Brookland Pk. Blvd, opened 1924, home of Richmond's first Wurlitzer organ.  June, Helen, Anita and Mother Maybelle Carter went to the Brookland Theatre from their home on Cliff Avenue near Ladies Mile Road in the late 1940s.
 
In early 1950s, all neighborhood children ran to the Brookland Theatre every Saturday morning to watch cartoons and action packed serials of Rocket Man, Zorro and others. On one particular Saturday morning, theatre management gave each child a brand new product at the front door and told each child to tell mom not to come home from the store without buying a can of New Birdseye Frozen Orange Juice . We were thrilled !  I remember Pitty Pat and I walked fast up North Avenue to Hazelhurst Avenue before the orange juice melted.

BROOKLAND THEATRE
Photograph circa 1936

 
 
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Ginter Theatre

Ginter Theatre  - 4011 MacArthur Avenue, named after Confederate soldier Lewis Ginter.  The Ginter Theater opened November 1, 1937, across the street from the Bellevue Theater in what was then a surburb of Richmond. It had a short life as a movie house because the firm that owned the Bellevue purchased the Ginter and closed it in 1939. The last show advertized at the Ginter was "Suez" on January 3, 1939. The Ginter Theatre had 574 seats.

The building was used as a skating rink in the early 1960s and was torn down sometime after that.

Ginter Theatre
gintertheatre.jpg
Ginter Theatre

 
 
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Lee Theatre

Lee Theatre - 934 W. Grace, named after General Robert E. Lee, opened October 13, 1935, with seating for 500. The Lee Theater was designed by Richmond architect Henry Carl Messerschmidt in an Art Deco style. In the mid-Sixties, the Lee was renamed the Lee Art Theater which showed adult films. Now, the Grace Street Theater, it  is a live performance theater.

LEE THEATRE
(ROBERT E.) LEE THEATRE

 
 
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Venus Theatre

Venus Theatre  - 1412 Hull St., opened  in 1924 and had 843 seats.

VENUS THEATRE
VENUS THEATRE

 
 
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Westhampton Theatre

Westhampton Theatre - 5706 Grove Ave., built in 1938,  is still operating.

 
 
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East End Theatre

East End Theatre - 418 N. 25th St., a classic Art Deco theatre on Church Hill.

 
 
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Park Theatre - had 577 seats.  

 
 
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Ponton Theatre  -

 
 
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Westover Theatre  -

 
 
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Carillon Theatre

Carillon Theatre -  on West Cary Street was built in the mid-1930s and was located in the next block east of the Byrd Theatre.

 
 
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Walker Theatre aka The Little Theatre

Walker Theatre - 116 W Broad St., opened 1912 with 392 seats. The Walker was named after Maggie Walker and was previously referred to as the "The Little Theatre." 

 
 
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Empire Theatre

Empire Theatre - 114 W Broad St., opened on December 25, 1911, a legitimate live theatre where artists such as Lucille LaVerne and John Bunny appeared on stage in a stock company.  It closed in 1915, later to re-open the same year as the Strand Theatre and continued until it was damaged by fire in 1927.  It was also called the Palace and the Odeon in the 1920s.  It became a "colored" theatre in 1936.

It lay empty for several years until 1933 when it was taken over by Lichtman Theatres and re-opened as a movie/vaudeville theatre known as the Booker T Theatre catering for 'Negro' audiences. The opening movies were "I Cover the Waterfront" starring Claudette Colbert and "Flying Down to Rio" featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Movies continued at the Booker-T until 1974.

It lay empty again for several years until it was purchased by the current occupants, Theatre IV Theatre Company, in 1984. They undertook renovations and improvements to the building (including taking over the former Walker Theatre next door, to use as additional dressing rooms and rehearsal space) and now present stage perfomances for children and family audiences.
 

EMPIRE THEATRE
EMPIRE THEATRE

 
 
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Hippodrome Theatre

Hippodrome Theatre - 528-30 N. Second St., opened in 1914. Seating 1,050.

 
 
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Globe Theatre - 

 
 
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Robinson Theatre

Robinson Theatre - 2903 Q Street, 597 seats.  The Theatre building has been sealed and unused for many years but it is still there.

Robinson Theatre, 2903 Q Street
Robinson Theatre, 2903 Q Street

 
 
LENNOX THEATRE, 512 Louisiana Street, located in Fulton, a section of Richmond, Virginia, this theater opened in 1909 as the Star, a nickelodeon. It operated until early 1948. After closing for refurbishment, it re-opened later in 1948 as the Lennox Theater, which closed again in the 1950s. It had 196 seats.

The theater was demolished in the 1970s when the entire Fulton area was cleared away.

 
 
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Lowe's Theatre

Loew's Theatre - 600 E Grace St., was built in 1926 with 678 seats.  The audience sang along with the bouncing ball on the screen while beloved Eddie Weaver performed on the Wurlitzer organ.

LOEW'S THEATRE
LOEW'S THEATRE

Eddie Weaver at the Byrd

 
 
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Byrd Theatre

Byrd Theatre - 2908 W. Cary St., opened in 1928. Later Eddie Weaver performed on the mighty Byrd Wurlitzer organ for the pleasure of his Richmond audience.

BYRD THEATRE

Byrd Theatre
Byrd Theatre

The Byrd Theatre,  named after William Byrd, the founder of Richmond, is one of Virginia's finest cinema treasures.

The 1400-seat theater, the first in Virginia to be equipped with a sound system, opened to great fanfare on December 24, 1928. The first audiences paid 50 cents for evening shows and 25 cents for matinees. Children were admitted for only 10 cents.

The Byrd's creators spared no expense in creating the theater.  Among its many features: mythically-inspired murals, imported Greek and Italian marble, spectacular crystal chandeliers, hand-sewn velvet drapes, fountains, a central vacuum system, and its own Wurlitzer (which is still in use and plays every Saturday night).

Another interesting apsect of the Byrd is that it contains a natural underground spring in its basement.  Water can be pumped from this spring for use by the building's air conditioning system.

In 1978, the theater was designated a state landmark.  And the following year, it was named a National Historic Landmark.

What may be the most remarkable thing about the Byrd is that the theater has somehow survived the past seventy years largely unaltered—in appearance and function. It still shows movies to this day.

 
 
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Capitol Theatre

Capitol Theatre - 2525 W Broad St., The Capitol Theater was opened with Norma Shearer in "The Waning Sex" on 8th November 1926.

CAPITOL THEATRE

The architects of this Spanish atmospheric design theater were Carneal & Johnston, with decorations by sculptor Ferruccio Legnaioli.

The Capitol was the first theater in Virginia to show 'talkies' (The Jazz Singer) in September 1927. It was re-decorated in 1936 into a streamlined Art Deco styling which lost most of the original atmospheric style of Legnaioli's urns, foliage and garden murals. The Wurlitzer organ was retained, but was no longer played.

The theater closed in 1984 and was demolished to build a McDonald's Restaurant, which never happened.

CAPITOL THEATRE INTERIOR
CAPITOL THEATRE INTERIOR

ISIS Theatre - 1920s, Broad Street.
 
The ISIS Theatre and the LUBIN Theatre were in the same building at different times.

Lubin Theatre - between 8th and 9th on Broad Street.
 
Bijou Theatre - between 8th and 9th on Broad Street.

Bijou & Lubin Theatre between 8th & 9th Broad St.
Bijou & Lubin Theatre between 8th & 9th on Broad Street

 
 
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Colonial Theatre

Colonial Theatre -  714 E. Broad St., 23219

COLONIAL THEATRE
COLONIAL THEATRE

COLONIAL THEATRE, 1930s
COLONIAL THEATRE, 1930s

The Colonial Theater opened on October 12, 1921 with Thomas Meighan in "Cappy Ricks" and a Harold Lloyd comedy. Interior designs were by Richmond sculptor Ferrucio Legnaioli and the seating was arranged in a stepped stadium style.

Closed in 1981, it is listed as demolished in 1992 with the facade preserved as the front of an office building.

 
 
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National Theatre fka Rex Theatre

Rex Theater -704 E. Broad St. of 1909 vintage was purchased and demolished in 1922.  National Theatre 708 E. Broad St., was built by those investors in the same block.

NATIONAL THEATRE
NATIONAL THEATRE

A group of local businessmen purchased the Rex Theater of 1909 vintage.  They demolished it in 1922 and started construction in the same block as the grand Colonial Theatre on Broad.

Some felt the new National was the finest theater in Richmond.  Part of that credit would go to Ferruccio Legnaioli, a fabulous Italian artisan in marble, cement, bronze and plaster.  His work found its way into many theaters and public buildings.  The beauty of the building really blew away the opening night crowd of 2,000 crammed into the theater.  "Her Reputation" entertained the governor and other dignitaries on November 11, 1923.

The heyday for the National had to be the 1940's.  During the first three decades of the history of this house, vaudeville, bands, and other types of performers shared the stage with films.  The Hal Sands Dancers were the headlining act for years.  The WWII years were hectic, as at most other sites. The theater changed hands several times during the next three decades.

As business dwindled, a "refreshing" occured around 1966. This involved a new marquee, painting over murals and plasterwork and changing the name to the Towne.   It struggled along until 1983, being the last of the great downtown houses to close.  A sad day, for sure.

The theater was saved from the wrecking ball in 1989 by the Historic Richmond foundation.  They, and other volunteers, have worked to keep up the building. Much of the great features were repaired and uncovered.  Tours have occasionally been laid on and there was hope a real use could be found for this great theater.

Reopening as a concert venue on February 21, 2008 with a 1,500-person capacity (including 300 seats on the balcony and standing only on the orchestra level) and seven bars, after an estimated $15 million renovation.

 
 
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Grand Theatre fka Bluebird Theatre

Grand Theatre  - 620 E. Broad St, opened as the Bluebird Theater in 1917.

GRAND THEATRE aka BLUEBIRD THEATRE

Originally opened as the Bluebird Theatre in 1917, it was most prominent at night when the large illuminated sign over the marquee was lit up in blue and white light bulbs.  It was shaped like a bird and the alternating flashing of the lights gave the illusion of a the bird flapping its wings.

In 1930, it was closed due to the Wall Street 'crash' and it stayed closed until 1933 when it was re-opened as the Grand Theatre.  It had a new facade and the building was renovated.  It became a grind house screening 'B' movies and westerns.

In the 1940s, and until it closed in 1963, it was the home to western movies in Richmond.
 

Regal Ridge Cinema 7, 1510 E. Ridge Road, was originally built in the 70's and was owned by Neighborhood Theatre Inc., Cineplex Odeon Corp., Neighborgood Entertainment Inc. and lastly by Regal Entertainment Group.

The two-story building had a huge, open lobby. On the second floor were three auditoriums, several offices which were used by the Regal District Management, and a concession stand. The first floor had two giant auditoriums with full stages, one with 750 seats and the other with 550. These two large auditoriums were originally the only two in the theater and were used for various types of live entertainment.

When it closed in September 2002, the now seven-screen theater showed foreign and independent films as well as first-run commerical fare. Regal decided to sell the old Ridge theater and the surrounding land and it was demolished in early 2004. 

 
 
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State Theatre aka Broadway Theatre

State Theatre  - 712 E Broad St. aka Broadway Theatre opened 10-25-1933.

 
 
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Henrico Theatre

Henrico Theatre  - 305 Nine Mile Road, located in Highland Springs, originally opened 4-25-1938. The name Henrico originates from the son of King James 1, (James River)  Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales.  Hence, Henri County.   Henrico. 

Henrico Theatre
Henrico Theatre

The Henrico Theatre was built in 1938, designed by architect Edward Francis Sinnott. The Henrico opened in the Richmond area on April 25, 1938, with the movie "Thin Ice" and had a seating capacity of 782. The theatre closed in 1996. The Henrico Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

Before the recent completion of the theatre's restoration, the terrazzo base with 'Henrico' was still intact on the front sidewalk leading to the theatre. The large marquee was in great shape and the large clock on the front center of the building was still there. The theatre was done in an Art Deco style as is evident from the front facade.

Henrico County bought the theatre in 1999 and spent $5.8 million to restore it. Dressing rooms and a green room were added, and the stage was enlarged. Molding remains in a period lime green, and the original paint scheme was preserved. Original light fixtures and chair ends were re-used. The carpet was recreated as it was originally. The auditorium now sits 400. The theatre has become a multi-use community facility for arts programming, including music, dance, theatre and film. The grand re-opening was October 27, 2007 with performances, a public 'open house' and tours

 
 
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Glen Drive In

Glen Drive-In - 2500 Mechanicsville Pike, The Glenn Drive-In opened in 1953 and closed around 1977. This drive-in had a capacity for 250 cars. 

 
 
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Fairfield Drive In

Fairfield Drive-In - 3101 Williamsburg Rd. The Fairfield Drive-In opened in 1956. In the 1970s, the Fairfield switched to adult movies. It closed in 1978 and has been demolished.

 
SUNSET DRIVE-IN, 8000 Midlothian Turnpike, The Sunset Drive-In opened on June 11, 1947, as the Midlothian Drive-In.  In 1949 the name was changed to the Dixie Drive-In. Finally, in 1952 it became the Sunset Drive-In. This single screen drive-in had a capacity for 400 cars. The Sunset Drive-In closed circa 1973.

 
 
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Bellwood Drive In

Bellwood Drive-In - 9201 Jeff Davis Hwy.  The Bellwood Drive-In opened in 1948 and was the largest out-door theatre in Richmond.  It had a capacity for 1015 cars. In 1979 a second screen was added and in 1986 the Bellwood Drive-In closed and became the Bellwood Flea Market.

 
 
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Rose Bowl Drive In

Rose Bowl Drive In - north on #1 highway at Telegraph Road.  

 
 
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