The Altria Theatre played host to Elvis, Frank Sinatra, the Supremes, and Jimi Hendrix in its stories past. It was The Place to play and The Place in Richmond to be seen, becoming the most popular theater in Virginia. However, as many Richmonders moved out of the city and into the suburbs, the Altria began to lose its populist appeal.
A determined effort by the Richmond Performing Arts Center and the city, in coordination with local arts and cultural groups, revitalized several performance spaces in downtown Richmond, including the beloved Altria. This transformation is helping to attract people back into the city and be a part of a vibrant arts, entertainment, and cultural reawakening.
Wilson Butler Architects was hired by the City of Richmond to complete a comprehensive citywide arts master plan in 2002, leading the way to a decade of reinvestment in arts programming, facilities and partnerships. The Altria Theater renovation is the most recent manifestation of the master plan, which included restoration and expansion of four downtown venues. This concerted effort by over 15 collaborating arts and cultural groups symphony, theater, ballet) to revitalize the performance spaces of downtown began a reawakening of not only these concert halls and theatres, but of the city itself.
Built for the Shriners in 1926, the theater and events complex was designed in the Moorish Revival architectural style. The auditorium seats approximately 3,600 people and is purposed for large, Broadway-style shows and music artists. The performance spaces were improved for the patron’s comfort and experience. Wilson Butler’s design doubled the number of restrooms and fully renovated the existing restrooms, added two new passenger elevators and restored and upgraded the original theater seats. The artists’ experience and technical support of shows were upgraded via theatrical lighting, stage rigging, stage flooring, and dressing rooms. A new electronic marquee takes advantage of the latest technology and brings a modern touch to the historic theater.