Very Richmond #6: The Byrd Theatre


Richmond’s Grand Movie Palace

I guess I’m not a huge movie fan. If I want to see to a movie, I can usually be patient and see it when the price goes down. 

Maybe I’m just a fan of whatever is playing at The Byrd Theatre, “Richmond’s Premiere Movie Palace” in the trendy Carytown District. A nightly survey of the paying customer would show a great mix of Richmond’s culturally enhanced — those with a more refined taste in where to spend a night at the cinema. There, you’re not going to the movies, you’re going to The Byrd. Big difference.

A history (paraphrased from the Byrd Theatre’s website):

It was built in 1928 as one of the Nation’s Grand Movie Palaces and today is both a State and National Historic landmark. The 1,300-seat Byrd Theatre, named after William Byrd, one of the founders of Richmond, is one of the nation’s finest cinema treasures.  The first movie was Waterfront, shown at The Byrd on Christmas Eve in 1928. Patrons paid 25 cents for a matinée and 50 cents for an evening movie. Today patrons pay $1.99 for a movie.

The price is right, but I’ve often said I’d pay $2 just to watch house organist Bob Gulledge and the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ crank a jaunty tune on a given Saturday night. 

Click for a larger image

The Mighty Wurlitzer organ alone is worth a visit on the weekends

The organ is so engaging, who needs Dolby Surround Sound? The entire wall behind the theater curtain is the organ. My friend and former co-worker at Richmond.com Andrew Cothern once did a behind the scenes look at the gigantic Wurlitzer that showed off the large amount of working parts, long pipes and the general enormity of the organ. Amazing how it can withstand 80+ years of vibrations and aging.

Here’s more on The Mighty Wurlitzer: “A landmark within a landmark”

The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ is perhaps the Byrd’s most recognizable trademark. The Rudolf Wurlitzer Company, which custom made organs for the leading theatres of the country, installed the organ when the theatre was built. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” theatre organ was designed as a “one man orchestra” to accompany silent movies.

My little kids seem to appreciate the novelty of it too, which assures me we’ve been teaching them to appreciate things that are authentic, unique and cool — not just new, flashy and current.

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I love the little things about The Byrd Theatre

Yes, the old theater seats are run-down and maybe a little cramped. If a new theater at premium prices with perfect (and loud) sound is what you want, go for it. I’d rather give my money (we usually donate an additional $5 when we go) to the Byrd Theatre Foundation than a monopolistic mega-movie theater.

More paraphrasing from the website:

The Byrd Theatre has never been remodeled with a few exceptions involving the stage area to accommodate up-to-date screens and the lobby to make room for a concession area. It is an architectural treasure chest adorned with paintings, marbled walls, gold leaf arches, a richly appointed mezzanine, and some of the original patterned mohair-covered seats. An 18-foot, two-and-a-half ton Czechoslovakian crystal chandelier suspended over the auditorium contains over 5,000 crystals illuminated by 500 red, blue, green and amber lights.

You want to know just how Very Richmond The Byrd Theatre is to me? My wife and I have often said that the :55 second anti-litter clip from the “Virginia Litter Control and Recycling Fund Advisory Board” (or something like that) would be worth $2, just to hear the audience (that has the hilarious and ancient cult-classic memorized) calling out the lines along with the actors:

Carytown's shining marque

“Litter! In the bathrooms. In the aisles.”

“Ooooohhhh….SICK!!”

“It’s pretty gross!”

“I…I couldn’t believe my eyes.”

“Someone needs parental guidance.”

“This kind of trash doesn’t belong here….Or anywhere else!!!”

I probably have some of the lines wrong and I’m missing some dialogue, but if you recognized that I missing something, then you don’t need me to tell you how cool and Very Richmond The Byrd Theatre is.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Sheryl on March 9, 2010 at 11:45 am

    I moved to the Fan at 18 and fell in love with the Byrd theatre immediately. My fondest memories were those when we would go for a midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” after a night clubbing (if the bands were bad). I recall a time when a guy rode his motorcycle up the aisle during Eddie’s scene. What a blast.

    Reply

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