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Byrd Theatre

At its opening in 1928, the Byrd Theatre was enthroned as the king of Richmond’s movie houses. Despite the better part of a century of developments in film technology in the theater, on the set, and in the editing room, the Byrd’s crown remains undisturbed, if slightly dulled by wear.

The theatre’s single grand screening room is a joy to behold. Architect Fred Bishop’s work is labeled Renaissance Revival for convenience, but there is no one term for the bombastic convergence of ornament he employed. The opulent chandeliers, intoxicating stage lights, and classically informed murals in the lobby created a sense of wonder and escape when going to the movies.

The Byrd Theatre is an essential part of the Carytown shopping district. By far the tallest building in the area, it is also the most architecturally refined, with fanciful ornament, patterned brickwork, and brass ticket windows. The original marquee was much larger and than the one there today. The Byrd Theatre Foundation, which operates the venue, would like to restore the marquee someday, but there are no concrete plans to do so.

The Byrd is also one of the few movie theaters to still have a functioning organ. On Saturdays, the organist rises up from the floor and delivers a short performance before the film begins. This ritual is close to the heart of many Richmonders, and it has the power to make even terrible films somehow palatable. The two dollar price tag doesn’t hurt either. The Byrd might be the building in Richmond most capable of transporting us into the past even as it continues to delight and entertain.



Theatre interior photography by Ariel Skelley. Exterior photography by Tom O’Keefe. Lobby interior photo courtesy of the Byrd Theatre.

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