National Theatre

708 E. Broad Street,
Richmond, VA 23219

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National Theatre

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A group of local businessmen purchased the Rex Theater of 1909 vintage. They demolished it in 1922 and started construction in the same block as the grand Colonial Theatre on Broad Street.

Some felt the new National Theatre was the finest theater in Richmond. Part of that credit would go to Ferruccio Legnaioli, a fabulous Italian artisan in marble, cement, bronze and plaster. His work found its way into many theaters and public buildings. The beauty of the building really blew away the opening night crowd of 2,000 crammed into the theater. “Her Reputation” entertained the governor and other dignitaries on November 11, 1923.

The heyday for the National Theatre had to be the 1940’s. During the first three decades of the history of this house, vaudeville, bands, and other types of performers shared the stage with films. The Hal Sands Dancers were the headlining act for years. The WWII years were hectic, as at most other sites. The theater changed hands several times during the next three decades.

As business dwindled, a “refreshing” occured around 1966. This involved a new marquee, painting over murals and plasterwork and changing the name to the Towne Theatre. It struggled along until 1983, being the last of the great downtown houses to close. A sad day, for sure.

The theater was saved from the wrecking ball in 1989 by the Historic Richmond foundation. They, and other volunteers, have worked to keep up the building. Much of the great features were repaired and uncovered. Tours have occasionally been laid on and there was hope a real use could be found for this great theater.

Reopening as a concert venue on February 21, 2008 with a 1,500-person capacity (including 300 seats on the balcony and standing only on the orchestra level) and seven bars, after an estimated $15 million renovation.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

Contributed by george h.hill

Recent comments (view all 26 comments)

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on February 21, 2008 at 6:43 am

is there an Internet link to today’s newspaper article?

ghamilton
ghamilton on February 21, 2008 at 6:59 am

PRECISELY,oh wise,all knowing one.How do you get the powers behind this great site to edit the headings?

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on February 21, 2008 at 7:06 am

Changes will be up soon, likely today or tomorrow.

ghamilton
ghamilton on March 7, 2008 at 10:36 pm

WELL,A group of friends went this past eve.to see the NEVILLE BROTHERS in concert.Of,course the theater was the thing for me-although the concert was fabulous.
I have to say that,while a work in progress,the place is a thing of extreme beauty.The workmanship is awesome to behold.It is obvious that today’s custodians are aware of their stewardship.Gibsons resteraunt is not open yet,but when open,will enhance the evening,for sure.If they could get the sound system a bit better tuned in,that would add a LOT to the experience.
All in all,a great new asset to the area.A blast to all the senses.I really appreciate the effort.My only suggestion would be to add seats at the rear of the downstars.

jjones0101
jjones0101 on April 7, 2008 at 5:14 am

Nice building with good acoustics. Uncomfortable wooden seats. Better call this place a night club though. People walking around talking, eating and drinking. Not a place for a partially handicapped person. I’ll say no to going back.

kseward
kseward on May 18, 2009 at 7:41 pm

1978 clipping of newspaper ads for Towne and other Richmond-area Neighborhood Theatres:

View link

nonsportsnut
nonsportsnut on October 5, 2009 at 7:06 pm

I’m a Three Stooges Fan Club member, trying to confirm a personal appearance by the “3” Stooges (Moe Larry and Shemp), on a bill with Wee Bonnie Baker, the Barretts and Don Hooton, after an appearance by the A.B. Marcus Revue. The movie “Queen of Burlesque” was also shown. I have a display ad, but no dates (or town shown). Believe it was the Summer of 1946, and may have been Shemp’s first appearance after Curly’s strokes. The National was advertised as air cooled and showed a phone number of JA-7863.
Any help will be appreciated.
Thanks Frank Reighter

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on March 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Nice photos Lost Memory.

bufffilmbuff
bufffilmbuff on November 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Saw many movies here during its run as the Towne, including FUNNY GIRL, which played with reserved seats. Other movies there included TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, THE REIVERS, LITTLE BIG MAN, and THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY. Recently saw Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings in concert there. It is a cool venue for music and lots of fun.

LugosiResearch
LugosiResearch on December 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm

On Wednesday 21 March 1951, Bela “Dracula” Lugosi presented his Horror and Magic Stage show for one night only at the National Theater. Currently I am conducting research on all things Lugosi; if anyone out there actually saw this show and/or has memorabilia (poster, handbill, photos) related to this show, please contact Bill at I already have copies of the ads that were published in the Times-Dispatch. Thanks in advance for any assistance!

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