Altria Theater: A Restored Landmark

Alex Falls
Staff Writer

Richmond’s historic Altria Theater reopened its doors on Nov. 2 after an extensive renovation, giving the classic theatre setting a new state-of-the-art presentation.

Formally named the Landmark Theater, a plan was hatched by Richmond CenterStage to bring new life into one of the city’s oldest performance arts venues. Seven years of planning, two and half years of construction and $63 million later the Altria Theater is ready to host entertainment for the Richmond community for years to come.

Opened in 1927, the Altria Theatre was completely revitalized. Photo courtesy of Beau Cribbs.

Spokesperson for Richmond CenterStage Jay Smith said every single square-foot of the 180,000 square-foot venue has been touched in the renovation. According to Smith, Centerstage provides an important service to the Richmond community through the support of performing arts.

“Richmond CenterStage serves as a catalyst for the arts community,” Smith said. “In that it’s helping not only provide venues for companies to perform their art and showcase their talent, but also helping bring patrons to see that art. Like the bridge between the two. That is good not only for a vibrant arts community but it’s great for the city.”

Smith said improving the patron experience is the number one priority in the renovation, and that includes brand-new restrooms, six lounge areas, expanded concessions, new indoor box offices and an electronic ticket kiosk.

The Altria Theater is the largest performing arts venue between New York City and Atlanta, according to Smith. More than 3,600 people can sit in the newly upholstered cushioned seats. The vast auditorium received a brand new sound system for dramatically improved acoustics, as well as new theatrical lighting and stage riggings. Everything from the floor to the curtains has been refreshed for a new age.

Lead architect on the project Bruce Herrmann said the Altria Theater is a one-of-a-kind experience of authentic performing arts brought into the 21st century. Herrmann also said adhering to the city’s restrictions of permanent changes to landmark buildings presented a unique set of challenges.

“We have goals that we want to do — from an architectural standpoint — to make the room function better as a theater,” Herrmann said. “And sometimes between that and the historic nature of it you sometimes find they’re competing for the same turf. There were a couple of really good challenges in there.”

The Altria Theatre ballroom had years of paint removed to reveal the original artwork. Photo by Alex Falls.

Herrmann noted the biggest architectural challenge came from installing the building’s three new elevators. Another large undertaking was the restoration of the Egyptian-themed ballroom, which Herrmann said turned into a thing of beauty.

Layers of paint built up over the decades had to be peeled away to reveal the ballroom’s original artwork. According to Smith, photos of the theater’s early days were referenced to restore the immaculate space to its original design.

Herrmann and his team paid attention to detail, which is evident walking into the main lobby. The walls ooze with opulence as every tile and every painting has been restored and preserved to their original designs.

Altria’s new stage was christened on Sunday when Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne performed for his Supernova Tour. Next up is a highly anticipated run of eight performances by the Tony Award-winning musical “The Book of Mormon.”

The “Broadway in Richmond” production runs for six days starting Nov. 4. Tickets to “The Book of Mormon” as well as Altria Theater’s entire schedule are on sale at their official website.

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