Richmond without Byrd Theatre: ‘Ooooohhhh…SICK!’

The Byrd Theatre is “Richmond’s Premiere Movie Palace”The Byrd Theatre is “Richmond’s Premiere Movie Palace” and has been since 1928. It is unique, charming and irreplaceable. You can complain all you want, but you can’t deny that Richmond — especially Carytown — needs the National Historic Landmark to stay in business and remain an integral part of the city’s entertainment.

I’m a think, buy, shop, eat, play, promote local kind of guy. I’ve never been the kind of person that appreciates the biggest, newest, shiniest objects – at least not when we already have something that works already.

Think about the complaints about The Diamond, the Richmond Coliseum and even Landmark Theater, just to name a few of Richmond’s entertainment venues. Bad seating, not enough bathrooms, parking, lack of amenities, out-of-date appearances, falling concrete…It’s what we do in Richmond. We complain. There’s always something that isn’t right with our venerable edifices. Then we go out and try to build huge and expensive boondoggles somewhere out in the suburbs.

Then we suck it up and get over it. For example, The Diamond got a makeover, but it’s really the same old place everyone has been complaining about for years. The Flying Squirrels have brought fun back to the ballpark, and that quieted everyone down. It’s the quality of the entertainment – bang for your buck — and the Byrd Theater has that.

I’ll admit, I rarely go to mainstream, first run theaters. They cost too much and are usually out of my way. The Byrd Theatre is perfect for me for the 10 movies I might go out to see in a given year, and I usually donate $5 to the bird cage when I go.

The Byrd Theatre works on so many levels. The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ on a Saturday night is the essence of Richmond. You can’t beat the $2 price of admission, even if you may have had to wait a month or two to see the movie.

Perhaps the best of all at the Byrd is the crowd reciting the lines of the old “Virginia Litter Control” film that runs before most movies.

Thinking of Richmond without the Byrd Theatre? “Ooooohhhh…SICK!”

NBC12’s Laura Geller examined the Byrd’s situation [also check the full video interview with Todd Schall-Vess, General Manager of the Byrd Theatre]:

When you think about Carytown, more than likely the first thing that comes to mind is the once opulent Byrd Theatre. Merchants Association President Bob Broomfield explained Carytown developed around the 81-year-old landmark. 

“It has helped define the attitude and funkiness, quirkiness, and the style that has been so much about Carytown,” he said.

The tough economy has created a bizarre situation for the movie palace, which sells tickets for a $1.99. General Manager Todd Schall-Vess told us day-to-day business is actually doing okay and raising prices would force them to send more money to the film distributors.

Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Will Jones touched on the upgrades and financial matters:

The Byrd Theatre Foundation was established in 2002 to buy and preserve the theater, but five years passed before it was able to finalize a purchase agreement with the heirs of Samuel and Irma Warren, longtime owners who restored the theater.

While making mortgage payments, the foundation also has been able to secure donations to replace the Byrd’s leaky roof and to repair its Wurlitzer pipe organ. Other improvements have upgraded the projectors, re-anchored the chandelier, and repaired the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and electrical systems. … Overall, the foundation estimates that $750,000 to $1 million is needed to upgrade the seats and bathrooms.

You don’t have to break your bank to help. Check the website and donate if you must, but mostly just go to the Byrd and enjoy yourself.


One response to this post.

  1. I can’t imagine Carytown without the Byrd, and I applaud you for your efforts to get Richmonders engaged in helping to save this treasure. Unfortunately, I don’t think a simple increase in movie-goers alone is going to fix this problem.

    If you look at some of the successes in historic theater restoration (Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix or The Colonial in Pittsfield, MA), the stories almost always include the local government’s help in some form (bond initiatives, anyone?). Heck, we don’t even need to look outside of Virginia for a historic theater success story. We’ve got the Henrico Theater right here. It’s owned by the county, by the way.

    The only thing that’s going to save the Byrd is for enough Richmonders to be passionate and vocal about raising the needed funding. Failing that, we’re gonna need a Michael Moore.


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