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More than a Movie Theater: Exploring Richmond’s Historic Byrd Theatre

More than a Movie Theater: Exploring Richmond’s Historic Byrd Theatre

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Byrd Theatre – Showcasing 90 years of Art, Entertainment, and Tradition

At just over 90 years old, the Byrd Theatre in Richmond still isn’t showing its age. As both a state and national landmark, the theater is known as one of the nation’s only Grand Movie Palaces, but it’s far from a simple museum.

It was named after William Byrd, a prominent figure and founder in the city of Richmond, and the first movie that debuted at the theater was the silent film Waterfront, shown on Christmas Eve in 1928. Patrons paid 25 cents for a matinee and 50 cents for an evening movie. The Byrd Theater has operated continuously since that initial showing in 1928, with a full calendar of showtimes even today.

Although the regal furnishings are the ideal backdrop for silent movies and classic films, the Byrd maintains a purposeful mix of modern and classic movies to attract visitors of all ages and backgrounds. The Byrd Theater Foundation also weaves educational and cultural events into programming to further the arts and engage the Richmond community throughout the year. Their singular mission is to “restore and establish the Byrd Theatre as the premier community supported film center for Central Virginia.”

The Byrd Theatre – Keeping it Original

While many movie palaces have succumbed to alterations and updates over the years, the Byrd is one of the few that remains largely unchanged from its original construction and design. Theater construction for the Byrd cost about $900,000 in 1928, which equates to a whopping $13 million today. Its iconic architecture features an 18-foot chandelier with 5,000 Czechoslovakian crystals and 500 color-changing bulbs.

The foyer is an elegant display of marble finishes and intricate plaster ornaments, framing a set of famous murals that were painted by New York-based artist Arthur Brounet. An imposing Wurlitzer organ sits just above the stage, with an array of chimes, sleigh bells, organ pipes, and other instruments that served to enhance silent movies with live “special effects.” The organ first performed on Christmas Eve at the first showing of Waterfront. It has been in continuous operation ever since, with Bob Gulledge, the official theater organist, playing to open shows every Saturday.

Marquee of Byrd Theatre
The Byrd Theatre is still a popular destination for movies, film festivals and other creative events. [Photo by Mr.TinDC/Flickr]

A Richmond Movie Theater Event

The Byrd Theatre’s many events include a French Film Festival, a horror film festival, and sensory-friendly screenings of classic and modern films. New films are released every Wednesday on the theater website. Upcoming shows include holiday favorites like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, big-screen classics like The Bishop’s Wife, and new releases like The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.

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Tickets start at $3 for movies at the Byrd Theatre, making it affordable and accessible to individuals and families who want to enjoy a night at the movies.

But when visitors walk into the theater’s breathtaking lobby and take their seats in the palatial theater, the experience becomes much more than just a movie. It’s a journey back in time that spans 90 years of art, entertainment, and tradition at one of Richmond’s most stately landmarks.

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