116 W. Tazewell Street,
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The Colonial Theater was built about 1907 as a legitimate theater in Norfolk, VA. It was located on W. Tazewell Street in Downtown Norfolk, near Boush Street. It was built during the Jamestown Exposition, a commemoration the 300th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in the Virginia Colony. Being in the segregated South, there was a separate entrance for African-Americans, which opened to a staircase leading directly to a balcony, where they were required to sit. The first show at the Colonial Theater was a live production of “Pocahontas”. The theater later became a movie theater and vaudeville house. Mae West and Fred Astaire were some of the legendary entertainers said to have played the Colonial Theater.
After the demise of vaudeville, the Colonial Theater was a movie theater from the 1930’s through the 1970’s. It was one of the first theaters in downtown Norfolk to fall into disrepair in the 1960’s and be used to show adult films.
I saw the inside of the empty theater in 1977. It had been closed for a while and was in poor condition, having last been used some time in the mid-1970’s. Dressing rooms for performers were still intact. The theater appeared to have been originally built with two balconies, and the second balcony had been retrofitted to accommodate a film projection booth.
I recall walking around with a flashlight and seeing beveled mirrors on the walls of the stairwells to the first balcony, and it struck me that this was once an extremely elegant theater. I found an old program of some type. It was from the 1920’s, and it made some mention to Theda Bara, an actress in silent films. I saved that program.
The Colonial Theater was demolished some time in the 1980’s or 1990’s, and definitely before 1997, when I moved from Norfolk.
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