6 N. Laurel Street,
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Altria Theater (Official)
Previous Names: Acca Temple Shrine, Mosque Theater, Landmark Theater
Located at N. Laurel Street and W. Main Street adjacent to Monroe Park. The magnificent Acca Temple Shrine was built by the Richmond Shriners at a cost on $1,75 million. Ground was broken on February 7, 1926 and it opened on October 28, 1927 with a performance by Metropolitan Opera contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink, who at the age of 66 was on her final tour. The following evening featured movies and vaudeville.
Designed in a splendid Moorish Revival style by local Richmond based architects Marcellus Eugene Wright Sr. and Charles M. Robinson it had a capacity of 4,763-seats. There were 1,931-seats in the orchestra and 2,832-seats in the two balconies. The central ceiling dome in the auditorium contains 75,000 square feet of 22-carat gold leaf. The stage draperies represented the hangings of a rich Sultan’s tent in ancient Arabia. They were studded with artificial rubies, emeralds and diamonds with gold chord tassels. It was equipped with a 2 manual 17 ranks 260 Special Wurlitzer organ.
The theater also contained a ballroom with a capacity for 3,500 dancers, a bowling alley, four large meeting rooms, a banquet hall which seated 1,500, an 18ft x 80ft swimming pool in the basement and a 42-room hotel for visiting Shriners.
With such a large seating capacity, it was hard to make the building profitable, even when movies were screened, and it relied mainly on concerts and musical shows to fill the theater. Among artistes who have appeared on the stage include: Ezio Pinza, Lily Pons, Grace Moore. Richmond born tap dancer Bill Robinson starred with Eubie Blake’s Orchestra in the show “Brown Buddies” in June 1931. Bill Robinson returned again in 1932 with the stage show “Going to Town”. George Gershwin gave a concert in March 1934. Nelson Eddy gave a sell-out concert on March 21, 1939.
The ballroom was also a big attraction, with big bands of the 1930’s, including Ella Fitzgerald and her Orchestra performing in September 1940.
It was renamed Mosque Theater in 1940 when it was taken over by the City of Richmond and was used for school functions, concerts and meetings. In the 1950’s and early-1960’s touring musicals roadshow companies presented “Oklahoma!”, “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Carousel”, “The Music Man”, “My Fair Lady” and “Hello Dolly”. Classical music concerts attracted big names like Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stowkowski, Arturo Toscanini and Andre Previn. Popular music stars such as Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Elvis Presley (on July 2, 1956), Aretha Franklin & Jimi Hendrix graced the stage.
In 1995 the theater had a $5.4 million renovation which took 18 months, and it reopened on October 28, 1995 as the Landmark Theater with a reduced seating capacity of 3,565-seats. Unfortunately, the chord was cut on the Wurlitzer organ console, making it unplayable. Only the theater was restored, other parts of the building await restoration.
In recent years is has been renamed Altria Theater and continues use as a live theatre. Occasional movies are screened with live orchestra.
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