Altria Theater
Richmond, United States

This theater in Richmond, Virginia was originally built as an Temple for Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (AAONMS) for North America, better known as the ACCA Shriners.  According to an article on the building by Nathan Cushing in RVA News, Clinton Williams, potentate of the local ACCA Temple, commissioned a temple in 1918.  


Over several years, architects presented Williams three designs, each one more elaborate than the previous. The final design was approved in 1925. The building would be 176,000-square feet with a 4,600-seat theater, 42 hotels rooms, a banquet hall for 2,000 people, a gymnasium, an 18 x 75-foot pool, a three-lane bowling alley, four billiard rooms, six lobbies, 18 dressing rooms, a roof garden, a kitchen and restaurant, and offices. The building’s exterior would incorporate Arabic aesthetics, just like other AAONMS buildings. The Shriners would name it the Mosque. The final cost would be $1.65 million. Construction began on February 7th, 1926.  (Cushing, Nathan. An RVA landmark: the 85-year history of the Landmark Theater. RVA News, July 12, 2012; 6:00 am. http://rvanews.com/entertainment/landmark-theater Accessed February 25, 2014)

It was the largest venue of the time.  The first performance was held there on October 28th 1927.  


Designed by Marcellus Wright Sr. and Charles M. Robinson, the exterior is described by the National Park Service as “a whimsical example of Moorish Revival architecture, with a large Saracenic arch and tiled faux minarets.” [1] The interior is decorated in an eclectic mix Middle Eastern and North African styles spanning time and geography, including painted geometric and vegetal patterns and elaborate tile work.  There is a large, elaborately decorated dome in the center of the auditorium.  


The venue struggled financially, and was sold to the city in 1940 for a fraction of the $1.65 original construction costs.  For the most part it has largely been used as a performance venue and meeting place since, though parts of the building have served other purposes.  In the 1950s the Richmond Police used one the building’s two subterranean floors as a Police Academy.  Virginia Commonwealth University has used the building for course registration. Other organizations have office space in the building.  According to Cushing it even served as an anti-aircraft command center during World War II.  


The theater is in the US National Registry of Historic Places, part of the Monroe Park Historic District.  The name was changed from the The Mosque Theater the The Landmark Theater in deference to the sensitivities of the Muslim community.  In February of 2014 it was again renamed the Altria Theater after the local company made a $10 million donation to support completion of the $60 million renovation of the theater. [2]   According to the Altria Theater web site, the main theater "offers seating for 3,565. The Altria ballroom is also host of numerous gala affairs and the ballroom has a capacity of 1,000 and a seated capacity of 600." [3]


--Michael A. Toler, AKDC@MIT, March 2014


NOTES: 

1. "Monroe Park Historic District / Cathedral of the Sacred Heart".  National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/richmond/MonroePark.html Accessed February 25, 2014.


2. Bacqué, Peter. "Landmark Theater is now the Altria Theater".  Richmond Times-Dispatch. February 22, 2014.  http://www.timesdispatch.com/entertainment-life/arts-literature/theater/landmark-theater-is-now-the-altria-theater/article_35fabec5-2a55-5824-a569-7e7586a378a5.html Accessed February 25, 2014.


3. "Theater History". The Altria Theater. http://www.altriatheater.com/about_us/theater-history Accessed February 25, 2014



SOURCES: 


The Mosque Theater. ScottyMooore.net. http://www.scottymoore.net/richmond.html Accessed Febuary 25, 2014.


Watson, Pernell and Elizabeth Jones. "This Mosque Never Used for Worship" The Daily Press. Hampton Roads, Virginia. April 14, 1997. http://articles.dailypress.com/1997-04-14/features/9704140085_1_mosque-parks-foundation-civic-center. Accessed February 25, 2014.


"When Elvis and Sinatra Played At The Mosque" Islamicana. July 12, 2012.  http://islamicana.com/2012/07/12/mosque-richmond/. Accessed February 25, 2014.



Location
6 N Laurel St, Richmond, United States
Images & Videos
Events
2013/1434 AH restoration
1925-1927/1343-1347 AH construction
1994-1994/1415-1416 AH restoration
Style Periods
Variant Names
Altria Theater
Landmark Theater
Alternate
Mosque
Formerly known as
Building Usages
community social club
public/cultural
concert hall
public/cultural
theatre
public/cultural
Materials/Techniques
brick
Keywords
adaptive reuse
restoration and conservation