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According to an Associated Press story, demolition of the Roland Court Theater began on Wednesday, 19 May 2010. See: http://www.wric.com/global/story.asp?s=12513478
Correcting previous post: I mistakenly wrote, “These ads suggest that the Bayne and the Roland wer under the same management, and that the Bayne was being operated as a kind of overflow facility in an arrangement that foreshadows later twinning.” I meant to write: “These ads suggest that the Bayne and the Roland were under the same management, and that the ROLAND was being operated as a kind of overflow facility in an arrangement that foreshadows later twinning.”
The Ritz occupied a mixed-use building of the sort much favored in the 1920s. Flanking the theatre foyer on the ground floor were retail shop spaces facing Patterson Street. Also overlooking the street were office spaces above the shops. It was in many respects a typical small-town southern theatre of its time.
When did the Roland Theatre operate? Was the Roland Court built in 1926, as one source asserts? When the Roland Court opened that year as an adjunct to the Morrison Building, did it contain a theatre space? Was the building in use for several years before a theatre opened within it about 1930? Was the Roland successful? These questions are difficult or impossible to answer from easily obtainable documentation. The earliest newspaper ad that I have been able to find for the Roland Theatre appeared in the Virginia beach News for 4 January 1935 (p. 8). This was actually an ad for the (larger) Bayne Theatre around the corner on Atlantic Avenue. The Bayne had been running similar small ads, listing the features it was playing weekly, in the Virginian-Pilot since at least December 1933. On 4 January 1933 the Bayne’s ad additonally specifies the upcomng weekend (Friday-Sturday) program of “The Roland.” In the Bayne Theatre’s ad in the Sun for 25 January 1934, some detail of the (slightly modified) management poicy is provided. The Roland is there said to be “Open 2 Days Only Showing 1 Change of Pictures Per Week on Saturday and Sunday.” These ads suggest that the Bayne and the Roland wer under the same management, and that the Bayne was being operated as a kind of overflow facility in an arrangement that foreshadows later twinning. Further research would be valuable in throwing light upon what may have been the operational connections between these two neighboring theatres. Pending the discovery of additional evidence, it can be safely said that the Roland began operation no later than 1933 and continued to operate through at least 1946. The styling of the marquee shown in photographs of the mid-1940s suggests that it might have been installed around that date. The building it occupies, containing besides the theatre retail space subdivisible into as many as four shops or restaurants, and apartments above the retail space, is an interesting example of a mixed-used structure. Mixed-use buildings were favored in the 1920s to hedge investment in theatre facilities by diversifying their rent sources.
According to Joseph Dunn & Barbara Lyle, Virginia Beach: Wish You Were Here (1983), p. 81, the “Roland Theatre, located down a court, opened in 1926.” A postcard and photographs of the exterior as it appered in the mid-1940s have been published in that book and other places. A 1946 photo shows that the U-shaped building then featured a horizontal, rectangular marquee spanning the width of its courtyard and extending over the 17th Street sidewalk. Above hung a vertical marquee bering the name of the theatre. The building itself, in Spanish mission style, has a facade continuous with that of the Morrison Building next door on the side toward the oceanfront. About 1963, 17th Street in Virginia Beach was renamed Virginia Beach Boulevard and addresses along the toroughfare wer renumbered. The U-shaped structure originally numbered 205-213 17th Street becasme 206-214 Virginia Beach Boulevard. The Virginia Beach City Directories, which beagn publication in 1962, do not appear to have ever contained a listing for the “Roland Theatre.” Instead, 210 Virginia Beach Boulevard is the address assigned to the Roland Court Apartments. (In 1957 and 1958 the Norfolk City Directory, incluiding Virginia Beach, had already listed the Roland COurt Apartments at 210 17th Street.) The Roland Theatre would therefore appear to have closed by 1957. 206-208 and 212-214 are the addresses of the retail spaces flanking the courtyard used, at least in the 1940s, as the entryway to the Roland. Above those retail spaces were the apartmants. The entrance to the Roland Court Apartments was at 210 Virginia Beach Boulevard through at least 1984. From the 1960s onward the retail spaces changed function quite often, suggesting the possibility that their (ground-floor) facades may have been remodeled at least once over time. From 1991 to 1993 the 210 address was vacant. The entire even-numbered side of Virginia Beach Boulevard appears to have fallen to speculators about 1996-97, and all of its addreses seem to have been vacant as of 1998. Plans for renovating the theatre building (206-214 Virginia Beach Boulevard) were announced in the Virginian-Pilot Beacon for 7 June 2009. The addresses, 210 (or 206-214) 17th Street and 210 (or 206-214) Virginia Beach Boulevard are equivalent. The Roland Theatre building now bears the numbers 208-214 Virginia Beach Boulevard, 206 being currently unused and 210 being the address of the entrance to the theater proper.
This family-run theater offers the exceptional experience of seeing movies in an environment surviving pretty much intact from the late 1940s. It has more old-time Hollywood atmosphere than any cinema I’ve ever visited, as well as an awesomely nostalgic concession stand. When in Seward, re-arrange your schedule to see whatever is playing at the Liberty. It will more than repay your trouble in any season though, like everything in Alaska, it is especially magical in winter.
To appreciate this U-shaped building it is well worth using Google Maps to see a satellite image of its address, or www.bing.com to see an aerial view. The address to use is in both cases: “210 virginia beach boulevard virginia beach va”.
Over the past several days southeastern Virginia print and television media have reported the demolition of the Roland Theatre as imminent. See, for example:
See also the article reproduced at View link
According to an article of 8 January 1982, the Beach Theatre would be closing within a week. Plitt Southern Thaters, which had been leasing the building, had decided not to renew its lease because attendance was only about 50% of what the management needed to draw to break even. The same article indicates that the Beach had been opened in 1947 in “a shiny marble and brick building” and relates that the marble had soon been replaced with more brick after being damaged by an automobile collision. “For most of itse existence, the beach specialized in ‘family-type Disney movies’ that catered to the interests of vacation families, the article stated, but had lately switched to "more adult, contemporary fare.” Relatively high ticket prices, changing entertainment tastes, and competition from local “shopping center theaters” were cited as contributing the Beach’s demise.
The Bayne Theatre may have opened in 1933. The earliest newspaper ad that I have been able to find for it appeared in the Virginian-Pilot for 6 December 1933 (p. 8). Virgina Beach businesses and residences began to appear in the Norfolk (Va.) city directories in the 1950s. In 1957 the Bayne was listed as located at “Atlantic Ave near 17th St,” Virginia Beach. In 1958 it appeared at 1604 Atlantic Avenue. It appeared in the Virginia Beach city directories (published from 1962 onward) at 1604 Atlantic Avenue. This is a mid-block address between 16th and 17th streets but closer to 16th (the highest number on that block in the late 1950s being 1610.) 17th was a better known street because heavily commercialized; hence its mention in the theatre’s advertising. In the 1982 Virginia Beach directory it shared the 1604 Atlantic Avenue address with the Mad Tee Shirt shop. After that year the theater was no longer listed. The Bayne Theatre had closed in September 1981, according to an article of 8 January 1982 in the Virginia Beach Ledger-Star. At the time of its closure the Bayne, like the nearby Beach Theatre, was managed by Plitt Southern Theaters. I suspect that between 1981 and its conversion into the Pirate Adventures Ride the building was used for retail and never reverted to theatrical use. Ads from 1935 suggest that the Bayne’s (weekend) programming was being coordinated with that of the Roland Theatre around the corner, in a way that foreshadowed twinning.
Known originally as the Alician Court, the Fox
Fullerton is the most intact of a mere handful of
surviving American “courtyard theaters,” which
featured an open forecourt in lieu of an enclosed
lobby. Its architects of record were Meyer &
Holler, the same firm that designed and built the
Egyptian Theater (1923) and the Grauman’s Chinese
Theater (1927) in Hollywood. Built in 1925, it is a
crucial link in the design history of the courtyard
theater as a building sub-type.
Its actual designer was architect Raymond M.
Kennedy, a 1916 graduate of Cornell University and
winner of the Rome Prize. At the American Academy
in Rome he formed a lifelong friendship with Phillip
T. Schutze, the well known Atlanta classicist with
whose manner Kennedy’s shows much affinity.
The Alician Court (Fox Fullerton) possesses in its
auditorium Kennedy’s largest surviving interior. I
am fortunate to have been able recently to inspect
it first-hand. The design of this interior evokes
the Mannerist architecture of northern Italy, which
was the style most admired by the architect and the
one he had the most skill in imitating. It ranks
among Kennedy’s two or three best interiors at any
scale. It is remarkable for being a work of genuine
architecture and not merely decoration, as most
American theaters of the 1920s were. Its completely
intact proscenium is, architecturally, one of the
finest in California.
The Fox Fullerton is not only one of the most
architecturally significant buildings in Orange
County; it possesses statewide
significance for California. Although little known
and poorly documented, it has some national
significance as the most intact survivor of a rare
building sub-type and as an example of the best work
of one of the most talented early twentieth-century
Meyer & Holler were the architects and builders of record for this structure. However, the design can be attributed more precisely to their employee, Raymond McC. Kennedy. Kennedy was probably the best educated architect working in southern California in the 1920s. A man of immense talent, he was superbly accomplished designer in the Italian Mannerist revival style. The Fox Fullerton is the last remaining theatre designed by Kennedy in that style, which is marked by dramatic silhouettes, striking juxtapositions of form, and bold sculptural details. This fact makes the Fox Fullerton a rare treasure indeed.
I keep seeing this theatre attributed to Meyer & Holler, but I have never seen anybody cite or describe the documentary evidence for that attribution. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who knows what the evidence is and where it is (Building permits? Blueprints? Newspaper accounts from the 1920s?). Please email me at: