Architects: Marcellus Wright Sr., Charles Custer Robinson, and Charles M. Robinson
Dates: 1925 – 1927
Address: 6 N. Laurel Street, Richmond VA
Conceived in 1918, what is now Richmond’s Landmark Theater was built as the city’s largest Shriner meeting house. Created largely through the work of Clinton L. Williams, the chapter’s potentate, the building’s program originally included not a pool, gymnasium, hotel, ballroom, restaurant, offices, and bowling alley in addition to the 4,600 seat theater.
Due to the inventive use of neo-Islamic form by architects Marcellus Wright Sr., Charles Custer Robinson, and Charles M. Robinson, the building was and often still is colloquially refereed to as ‘the Mosque.’ Minaret like structures flank the central pointed arch entryway. The lobbies, lounges, and window niches feature arabesque or geometric tile work in rich middle eastern color. The grand theater is decorated with murals of scenes of middle eastern antiquity. Lavish materials were not spared with marble and tile from Italy, Spain, and Tunisia and 75,000 square feet of gold leaf on the central dome alone. The overall effect is one of opulence and romanticism; an effect no doubt cherished by the original Shriner occupants as much as the theater’s current patrons. The Landmark’s conversion to a city operated theater came in 1940. It has served as one of Richmond’s most important venues ever since. Along with it’s bombastic architecture, it’s prominent location on Monroe Park and it’s continuing reputation as a center for performance has made it a destination worthy of it’s name.
More information of the Landmark’s performances and facilities can be found here: http://www.landmarktheater.net/
Architect: Wilfred Emory Cutshaw
Address: 122 West Leigh Street
The Leigh Street Armory (or the First Battalion Virginia Volunteers Armory as it was known upon its completion) was built in 1895 as the home for the African American Military Battalion of Richmond. The building was designed by Wilfred Emory Cutshaw who used the turrets and crenelation typical of a medieval fortress to evoke the building’s purpose. Cutshaw was Richmond city’s chief engineer and architect at the time and was responsible for such important projects as the current layout of Monroe Park and the pump house in Byrd Park. The building is among the most monumental remaining in Jackson Ward after the construction of I-95 ravaged the neighborhood in the 1950s. It stands as the oldest surviving Armory in the state of Virginia and possibly the oldest African American Armory in the nation.
The armory served as a major center for African American culture in Jackson Ward. In his insightful guide to African American Architectural history in Richmond, Selden Richardson explains that the armory hosted events such as “balls, displays, banquets, and fairs” and was “a major achievement for blacks in Richmond.” Clearly, the building functioned as a social hub and an icon of equality and progress for the city’s African American population.
The African American battalion was established in 1876 but had no permanent home until the completion of this building which put the organization of par architecturally with the four white battalions in Richmond. While the armory was largely funded by the city government, this funding was secured through the influence of prominent black businessmen such as John Mitchell Jr., the editor of the Richmond Planet. Armstead Walker (husband of noted African American bank president Maggie L. Walker) was hired as contractor for the project.
In 1899, during the wake of the Spanish American War, the city of Richmond had the armory converted into a school. Monroe Elementary operated from this building for a 40 year period which was followed by several decades of annex classroom space for other area schools. The armory has been in total disuse since that time. The building received federal grant money in 2002 to stabilize the building’s structure and exterior under the Save America’s Treasures program.
In December 2011, a $600,000 grant from the state of Virginia was given to the city of Richmond to revitalize the Leigh Street Armory. When complete, the building will serve as the new home for The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, currently located on 3 East Clay Street. The Leigh Street Armory will once again play a vital role in the rebirth and life of Jackson Ward
Address: 407 East Canal Street
One of the creative and culture hubs of Richmond exists in an awkward spot of Canal St, immediately bordered on three sides by parking and the Downtown Expressway on the other. Yet the quality of design doesn’t suffer from it. A marvelous 52,000 square foot renovation to a 1928 concrete factory houses the Richmond Ballet.
The design philosophy, according to the architect, was “a new lightweight structure of steel and glass designed to literally hang off, or ‘dance’ on, the face of the existing concrete frame, embodying the motion, tension, energy and dynamic of dance.” It certainly maintains an aesthetic of a factory through exposed duct work and gray stone. The building uses an innovative method of shifting practice spaces into performance spaces, utilizing square footage as much as possible. The practice spaces open up not only to the outside in order to receive light but also to the interior bent halls, enlivening the whole building with the movement of the dancers within. The mostly transparent structure enables passers-by to visually participate in the inherently performative quality of dance, the practice and exhibition spaces on the top floors slightly leaning out from the building, announcing themselves. An angled entrance awning suspended by cables on the northern side of the pre-existing structure externally alludes to the new intervention, as a similar angling appears on the roof of the south end of the building.
With construction funds provided by Reynolds Metals Company, state of the art technology was installed such as cushioned flooring and sound-proof walls and ceilings. Other amenities of the new structure include six dance studios, a library, box office, freight elevator and set and costume design studio.