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The Byrd Theatre: Richmond’s Grand Movie Palace

Published on February 25, 2013 by

Well, the Oscars are over.  Boy, wasn’t that a hoot?  Remember when that one lady did that one thing?  And can you believe that THAT guy won instead of that other guy for best person who did acting?  Man, that was an emotional roller coaster!  And did you see what she was wearing?  And I totally cannot believe that speech was so long!  They should have started playing the music MUCH earlier.

Ok… I might have spent yesterday watching The Walking Dead and not the Academy Awards… but I did SEE some of the movies!  And, personally, I think a better way to celebrate cinema is by going back to a time when people built theatres instead of theaters.  A time when people dressed in suits to go see a moving picture show, and thought that talkies were a fad.  Fortunately for RVA residents there is a place where we can do just that…

Not just a theatre, but a palace!

Not just a theatre, a palace!

For just $1.99 you can experience all the wonders that Hollywood has to offer AND be treated to the amazingly ornate Byrd Theater.  (For some reference, tickets at one time were only 44 cents.  This was back in the 40′s, so if you adjust for inflation that is almost $8 a ticket!)

And it will be a better love story than Twilight!

My love for The Byrd is a better love story than Twilight!

Built in 1928 for the staggering price of $900,000 (that’s over $11,000,000 in today’s dollars!) the Byrd is just another example of a time when we really paid attention to details.  I still remember the first time I went to the Byrd, which is not something I can really say about any other movie theater.  It is so ornate that they had to remove things to make way for the modern movie-going experience, like the water feature and aquarium that used to occupy the space where the concession stand is now.  (I am ok with this.  They have the best popcorn in the city!)

And Goobers!

And Goobers!

The Byrd was the first movie theater in Virginia to have sound.  Back then people thought that being able to hear your movies was just a fad, kind of like 3D movies today.  The first movie played at the Byrd was Waterfront, a silent movie with sound (music and sound effects) added through the Vitaphone system that would eventually be replaced by a Dolby Sound System donated by Ray Dolby himself.  For those movies that did not have sound, the Byrd had The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ.  Every Saturday and Sunday night The Mighty Wurlitzer rises from the orchestra pit.  From it’s controls the organist can play not only the organ but the piano located in the stage right alcove, a 6 foot xylophone, a marimba hidden under the stage left alcove, drums, horns, bells and other effects.  The harp though is ornamental.

View from the balcony.

View from the balcony.

Another fairly amazing feature is the cantilevered balcony.  When sitting underneath the balcony your view will not be obstructed by supports because… there are none!  The balcony is supported through the back wall of the theater and the front.

The most impressive feature (to me) is probably the 18 foot, two-and-half-ton mass of Czechoslovakian crystal that makes up the main chandelier.  Over 5,000 crystals and 500 red, blue, green, and amber lights were used to make the beautifully ornate piece.  This is something that I would expect in a grand opera house, not somewhere where Ben Affleck is on the screen.  (Congrats to Argo, winner of Best Movie in Spite of Having Ben Affleck involved.)

Behold!  She is singing to bring down the chandelier!

Behold! She is singing to bring down the chandelier!

I did not see Jennifer Lawrence winning in my crystal ball, but I would not have minded.

I did not see Jennifer Lawrence winning in my crystal ball, but I would not have minded.

I could easily spend 3 1/2 hours just gawking at all of the small details that make the Byrd what it is… I probably would have done that if I had been forced to watch Titanic there.

They even thought to put in fax wax dripping from the electric lighting!

They even thought to put in fake wax dripping from the electric lighting!

As far as I can tell, this alcove (like the many others) serves no purpose except to look awesome.

As far as I can tell, this alcove (like the many others) serves no purpose except to look awesome.

Stained glass windows.  It's like a temple of cinema!

Stained glass windows. It’s like a temple of cinema!

The main lobby chandelier, because having just ONE chandelier was just not enough.

The main lobby chandelier, because having just ONE chandelier was just not enough.  Also note the elaborate ceiling.

If you’re looking for a great date night, or just someplace to go and catch a flick (hell, if you just want an excuse to have popcorn for dinner!) I encourage you to put on a suit, a fedora (no skinny jeans), and head out to The Byrd!  The show must go on.

The Stage

The Byrd Theatre
2908 W Cary St
Richmond, VA 23221

Special thanks go out to Todd A. Schall-Vess and The Byrd Theatre Foundation.  Check them out online for show times and some pretty great historic pictures and more information at http://byrdtheatre.com/.  While there, consider donating!  I would certainly not complain to see them replace the seating!

 

 
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One Response

  1. [...] When motion pictures with sound came out in golden era of silent films, experts at the time thought of the “talkies” as a fad, never to replace the artistry of silent [...]

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