November 20, 2014
Following an extensive top-to-bottom renovation, the Altria Theater reopened earlier this month, reintroducing the Richmond, Virginia community to the elegant 1920’s style and spirit that drew in millions of patrons over the course of its storied history. Now equipped with modern theatre systems, improved seating, refurbished décor, and greater amenities, the theatre is better equipped than ever to provide a bridge between the arts and the theatergoing public.
Working in collaboration with Wilson Butler Architects, we led the renovation of the 180,000 square foot building’s auditorium, theatre equipment, and support spaces. Nearly all of the renovations were conducted in phases, allowing the theatre to maintain its schedule of events.
Originally built as a Shriner Temple, the iconic venue opened in 1927 and became known as "The Mosque" because of its twin minarets and elaborate Egyptian-themed decorations—a name it kept until 1995, when it became the Landmark Theater. In 2014, the name was changed once more after The Altria Group gifted the theatre $10 million to aid in the $63 million renovation.
The renovation process began more than four years ago with a study we conducted to determine how the theatre could best improve patron experience, more efficiently accommodate touring groups, repair and replace the deteriorating portions of the facility, and continue to draw captive audiences to the largest performing arts venue between Atlanta and New York.
One of the most pressing problems facing the Altria was the seating in their 3,610-seat auditorium. The room’s stiff, wood-backed seats were set on an overly gradual rake, leaving audiences uncomfortable and with partially obstructed views. By raising the rake, rearranging the seating configuration, reupholstering seats, and installing new padded seats, every patron in the auditorium can now enjoy clear views in an exceptionally comfortable setting. The seating rearrangements and refurbishment was the only portion of the renovation that required the Altria to temporarily stop hosting events.
While an improved patron experience was the foremost goal of the Altria’s renovation, increasing the ease-of-use of touring groups was also a top priority.
Working from our recommendations, the theatre replaced all 50 of its line sets, installed a new house curtain, refurbished the dressing and green rooms, providing additional power to stage equipment, installed new winches, and added new dimming and control systems. After installing a larger loading dock, the touring acts that make up the life blood of the Altria now have more ability than ever to set up, tear down, stage spectacular productions, or move complex scenery and set pieces more efficiently.
"In part, what we’ve done is allow the Altria to bring in touring companies and concerts and have them set up, perform, and get out with much less hassle, less manpower, and less wasted time," Millie Dixon, project manager, said. "What they have now is a much more efficient venue, and they’re going to see more shows, bigger audiences, and more profit."
In addition to the improved viewing experience, upgraded theatre systems, and an enhanced capability to cycle in and out touring groups, the renovation of the Altria also included an incredible array of aesthetic, and infrastructure improvements including a new indoor box office, new and restored bathrooms, heating and air conditioning upgrades, acoustic improvements, expanded concession areas, upgraded house lighting, a restored ballroom with new bar and catering kitchen, three new elevators, and much more.
Considering the incredible scope and modern accoutrements of the Altria’s renovation, early audiences have noted with astonishment how the theatre was able to retain the classically opulent style of its 1920s origin, which helped it become one of the East Coast’s most popular touring destinations.
Grammy-winner Ray Lamontagne’s November 2 performance marked the Altria’s first act following the completed renovation. The Tony-winning musical The Book of Mormon soon followed behind him with a six-night run, offering just a glimpse of the variety of performances and speed of changeover that the theatre can now accommodate, thrilling audiences for decades to come.
The Altria Theater is owned by Richmond CenterStage, which also owns two other Richmond Theatres: the Carpenter Theater, which Theatre Projects led the renovation of in 2009, and another Theatre Projects venue: the Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse.