Academy Of Fine Arts
600 W. Main Street,
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Academy of Fine Arts (Official)
Firms: Frye & Chesterman
Functions: Live Performances
Previous Names: Music Academy, Academy Theatre
The Music Academy was originally opened on February 1, 1905. Designed in a Neo-Classical style, with Palladian touches structure by architects Frye & Chesterman with 1,250 seats. It burned to a great extent in 1911, rebuilt within the original walls with changes by architects Claude K.Howell and J.M.B. Lewis. Seating, due to balcony changes, was reduced to 1,050 seats.
Known for its superior accustics, it hosted all the greats of the first third of the 20th century, like West, Russell, Bernhardt, Adams, Cohan, Drew and Paderowski.
By the 1930’s it had become exclusively a movie palace, known as the Academy Theatre. It followed the normal downhill path of thousands of others, finally closing in 1958 as a segregated theatre. It sat empty, un-molested, mostly for 40 years. Narrowly escaped demolition in the late-1960’s.
Listed as a historical treasure in 1969. Facade underwent partial restoration in the 1970’s, but the normal civil strife went on for years while the powers that be tried to figure out what to do with this precious "white elephant". A severe storm in 1993 caused the collapse of the stage box portion. A temporary rear wall was constructed to seal the body of the theater. A total restoration, with the construction of a huge new stage box, with all the trimmings, went on for a couple years, but has since halted. Currently fundraising is going on at other venues.
The facade is almost identical to a similar, long lost theater in Roanoke. There were actually a total of six theaters in VA at one time along the same plan. The civic group in charge seems quite rich with plans and talent. This structure will truly lead to a new life for the long neglected downtown of this historic river city that the hated yankee general Hunter could not capture after laying seige.
I know there were four other theaters in downtown at one time.
In 2015, the Academy of Fine Arts was open during its restoration, which upon completion it will have 800 seats. Restoration was completed in December 2018 and it reopened December 6, 2018 with (for the first time in its history) an integrated audience.
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