Commodore Theatre

421 High Street,
Portsmouth, VA 23704

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Commodore Theatre - Portsmouth, VA (Official)

Additional Info

Previously operated by: Wilder Theatres

Architects: John J. Zink

Functions: Movies (First Run)

Styles: Streamline Moderne

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 757.393.6962
Manager: 757.393.4383

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News About This Theater

Commodore Theatre

The Commodore Theatre was opened on November 14, 1945 with Lee Bowman in “She Couldn’t Say Yes”. It was originally designed to hold 1,008 moviegoers. The theatre lasted for thirty years.

After a 12-year period in which the theatre was largely abandoned, restoration work began in June 1987. The theatre was restored back to the way it looked in 1945, but with a major change to the seating arrangements. Seating was significantly reduced to 188 in the main floor to accommodate dining during feature presentations. 318 seats are still available in the balcony.

The Commodore’s sound system was designed with the help of George Lucas' THX Group at Lucasfilm in California and shows 35 mm film exclusively in Dolby Digital sound. The screen measures 41 feet wide and 21 feet high and there are 9 large JBL speakers mounted in the sound wall behind the screen and 22 surround speakers throughout the auditorium.

The original stage was set up with a fly loft, which allowed live stage shows to be presented along with movies however, it was necessary to remove all of the rigging in order to meet the requirements of the THX Sound Certification.

The auditorium, designed by Baltimore Architect John J. Zink, A.I.A., measures 85 feet wide by 90 feet deep, an almost perfect shape and size for today’s film processes. The design is so good that balcony patrons and main floor patrons are not visible to each other, thus allowing each group to view the screen without distractions. The kitchen occupies the old manager’s office and men’s smoking lounge. The balcony originally had no rest room or concession facilities. These were added so that the patrons sitting in the balcony would not have to walk down the stairs during the show.

Contributed by Brett England, Fred Schoenfeld, Marvin C. Frame, Jr., Maria Park

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

althe3rd on August 8, 2005 at 10:48 pm

I used to take the bus downtown with my brother to see movies.Back then, there were three theatres – the State, the Colony, and of course, the Commodore (by far the best).Years later, I re-visited the Commodore with my kids.The memories of the place came flooding back.I’d forgotton how beautiful it was.It’s the only place around to really experience a movie.Excellent!

kencmcintyre on September 9, 2006 at 5:53 pm

Here is a 1958 photo. The theater was showing an Elvis movie:

Karen Colizzi Noonan
Karen Colizzi Noonan on December 2, 2009 at 10:42 pm

I enjoyed lunch and a movie at the Commodore over the weekend and urge everyone in, around or passing through the VA area to take the time to enjoy this unique theater!

The food was out of this world, quite reasonably priced and served quickly. The seating was delightful (main auditorium is table and comfy chairs – balcony is for popcorn and soda) and the theater is in great shape. An Art Deco delight! This is a single screen theater that is making a go of it by blending it’s historic decor with a very modern concept. They get my HIGHEST marks!!

Don Lewis
Don Lewis on November 1, 2010 at 12:31 am

From the 1950s a photo postcard view of the Commodore Theatre along with the Colony which is directly across the street.

MOintLek2L on April 29, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Fred, I was revamping my telephone contacts and—once again—had to pause on the listing for your Commodore Theatre. It seems like a million years ago, a veritable lifetime since I was in Portsmouth. The theatre’s classic front styling caused me to stop at the Box Office window and read the newspaper article displayed, detailing your restoration efforts. That’s when you walked up and invited me inside. You gave me a tour of the place and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe at the devotion to the project you exhibited. There was also a sense of lingering memories that seemed to exude from the very structure of the building and the interior appointments, so I frequently wondered if I was seeing the present-day version of the theatre, or if my mind’s eye was transporting me into the halcyon days of its prime. As our conversation continued, you asked if I’d lend you a hand with some repairs, to which I agreed. Over several days, you and I restored some wiring, both electrical and for the table telephones. You even turned me loose to tighten up some of the seating in the balcony. Between the various and sundry projects, you were the consummate host, telling me tales of the original architecture, showing me how the projectors used a continuous loop of film, and explaining how your staff handled the process of catering meals during the showings. You even allowed me to witness the fruits of your labor, letting me sit in on the current film during the evenings, “Meet Joe Black.” I helped shuttle out food to customers during the feature. It was a wonderful experience for me, and I hope some of what I contributed still remains as an integral part of the theatre’s underpinnings. I’m proud to have shared a tiny slice of its history. Since then, I’ve retired from the Air Force and taken up residence in Fulton, MO. I work at Callaway nuclear power plant, and I’ve held several different positions over the last 12 years. I’m still a “jack of all trades” and a master of a few of them. My work-a-day world doesn’t often provide the sweep and grandeur, or the historical beauty of such a place where you work, but my memories of the Commodore Theatre are always a fond reminiscence, whenever I am reminded of it. Bless you abundantly, and thanks for the memory! TJW

tinkie on July 11, 2015 at 1:34 pm

In the late 40’s The Commodore was the land mark for my Parents to meet and pick me up after my Portsmouth Ferry ride from Berkley visiting my Grandmother. It was always very safe there even if my Parents were minutes late coming from Cradock. Fred Crouch

tinkie on July 11, 2015 at 1:43 pm

I was given a great photo of the Commodore “Amateur Nite” with a red Corvette and a motorcycle parked outside. Please refer me to the source so I can buy copies for old friends.

50sSNIPES on May 30, 2023 at 9:39 pm

The actual opening date is November 14, 1945 with Lee Bowman in “She Wouldn’t Say Yes” with no extra short subjects.

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