After a renovation of more than two years and $63 million, Richmond’s Altria Theater, formerly the Landmark will reopen on Sunday, Nov. 2, with a performance by Ray LaMontagne. Altria opened as The Mosque in 1927, an entertainment venue for the Shriners’ ACCA Temple. This recent renovation centered largely on restoring the 1930s aesthetics, while adding modern touches making it more comfortable for a 21st-century theatergoer. The Moroccan-themed wall and floor tiles are still there, but the walls have been repainted using old pictures and, in some cases, original stenciling, as a strict guide.
Construction began in July 2012 and the renovation was broken into phases so that the theater could remain open to the public. Jay T. Smith, spokesman for Richmond CenterStage, says, “We didn’t want to lose a season of the Broadway series coming in.” Construction on public areas was done in the summer, when the typical theater season is over.
One change is to the theater’s iconic fountain, which now has a fencing rail surrounding because, as lead architect Bruce Herrman says, “Older people would trip over it, and young kids would climb into it.” The fountain will also have what Herrman called “21st -century water,” that is, textured and backlit blue glass.
Display boards throughout the building show what’s happening in the theater, so that audience members who leave for any reason will know when to retake their seats. The renovation also includes a trend towards opening the building up for more than just performances. The Main Street side eventually will have a café that will be open independent of the performance schedule. Its lounges, as well as the ballroom, will be available to rent for private functions. Extensive work in particular was done to restore the ballroom’s Egyptian-themed paintwork. Herrman says of the ballroom, “If you go back in time to 1930, this should be how it looked.”
The restrooms have also been redone and can now be found on each floor—no longer will theatergoers have to choose between the bathroom and the concession during intermission. The men’s bathroom on the third floor now includes a parlor area, which boasts a stunning view of Monroe Park. The seating area in the theater now has wheelchair access on each level and additional wheelchair seating.
The folding chairs, designed for the average-height person in the 1930s — shorter than an average-height person today — have been raised. The cushions have also been replaced, and the overall slope of the seating is steeper, meaning those in the “nosebleeds” get a better view. Thanks to the addition of a control booth, no one will have to try to see past a sound mixer at work during, say, The Book of Mormon, which will be at Altria starting on Nov. 4.