708 E. Broad Street,
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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.
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