Commodore Theatre

421 High Street,
Portsmouth, VA 23704

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Commodore Theatre

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The Commodore Theatre was opened in November 1945 and was 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 25 comments)

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on January 18, 2008 at 12:15 pm

A large view of the Commodore marquee can be seen here.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on February 3, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Another large view of the marquee from 2008 can be seen here.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on May 26, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Opened November 14, 1945. The theater was named for Commodore James Barron, veteran of the War of 1812. He is buried in the churchyard next to the theater. Source.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on July 10, 2009 at 6:48 pm

This is a 2009 shot for marquee aficionados.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on November 21, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Here is the National Register of Historic Places registration form for the Commodore and this photo goes with the form.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on November 24, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Here is a nice recent photo of the Commodore.

SchineHistorian
SchineHistorian 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!!

DonLewis
DonLewis 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.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on June 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm

The Commodore was featured in this 1946 trade ad: boxofficemagazine

MOintLek2L
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

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