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Empire Theatre

1992 Photo from the John Lewis collection.
114 W Broad St
Richmond VA 23220
(804) 344-8040

Visit Website Live Theatre
Record #26581  
 Opened: December 25, 1911
Architectural Style(s):
National Register:
Current Organ: none
 Also Known As: Strand, Booker T

Information for this tour was contributed by Daniel Gibbs.

The Theatre IV complex is based around two old theatres. The main stage facility is the Empire.

The Empire opened in 1910. It always did a good business despite being a little west of the main business district. The big arched doorway features beautiful Classically-inspired friezes and dancing Muses. This is the only indication of the VERY ornate facade that once was -- it was stripped down to the current, pseudo-Spanish look in the '30s. The older facade had Doric pilasters and a false pediment above the remaining archway. The interior has been well preserved by the theatre group that uses it today. Its boxes and both balconies are still intact.

The Empire has had a long and colorful career. It was also called the Palace, the Odeon and the Strand at various points in the '20s, when for some reason the second-string theatres in Richmond seemed to change names almost annually. Finally, outdone by the Colonial, National and Loews, it became a "colored" theatre called the Booker T in 1936. This was a nice bit of irony -- the old vaudeville era house has a separate "colored" balcony that to this day can only be accessed from a separate door at street level. The only way you can get from this balcony into the rest of the theatre is to take a fourteen-foot jump down. The Booker T stayed in business until the early '70s when integration was complete enough that it was no longer necessary.

In 1978 both the Empire and the neighboring Regency Theatre became part of the Theatre IV project.

 Photos remain the property of the Member and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the Member.

June 1992 photos from the John Lewis collection.

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Last featured 2/3/2007. Last edited 2/26/2010.

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