A Brief History of the Byrd Theatre
If you live in Richmond, you’ve almost certainly taken in a move at the iconic Byrd Theatre. And if you’re a visitor to our city, the theatre is a sight not to be missed – and when you spend time in Carytown, it’ll prove impossible to miss!
“Richmond’s Movie Palace” was built in 1928 and named after the city’s founder, William Byrd II. The theatre was the first in Virginia to be built with a sound system; in fact, the Byrd was outfitted with two very different sound systems, owing to the timing of it’s construction. Through the 1920s, the film industry experienced a transition from silent films to talking films. For this reason, the Byrd was given a Warner Brothers-developed sound synchronization system. However, some film industry executives thought that the public would prefer silent films in the long run, so the theatre was also outfitted with an organ, the Mighty Wurlitzer. There have been 12 House Organists throughout the Byrd’s existence; the current organist, Bob Gulledge, still plays the instrument every Saturday night prior to the evening’s early film.
The theatre contains enough seats for nearly 1500 people – 916 on the main level, and another 476 in the balconies. The most notable interior feature is the large chandelier hanging over the auditorium that uses 500 colored lights to illuminate over 5,000 Czechoslovakian crystals. But a closer look will also reveal canvas oil painting of Greek Mythological figures, Italian and Turkish marble, and velvet drapes.
In 1978, the Byrd was designated a Virginia Historical Landmark, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places just one year later. Since 2007, the theatre has been owned by the Byrd Theatre Foundation, whose purpose is preserving it. Nearly all of the theatre is in its original state; only the screen, sound system, and concessions have been replaced or installed since the Byrd’s opening.
When the Byrd first opened, tickets for a movie cost only $0.50 – though they are only $2 today, so perhaps they are cheaper in modern times, after inflation is taken into account!
Want to learn more about Carytown’s History? Join our Carytown Food & History Tour! It’ll be the most delicious history lesson you’ll ever have!
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