Q: So what is the reason for The Byrd Theatre Foundation? Is the Byrd in trouble? Will it be closing?
A: The Byrd Theatre Foundation was formed to purchase the Byrd Theatre and restore it so that it can continue to serve the Richmond area as an affordable outlet for entertainment. We want to preserve movie-going as the big motion picture event it was back in 1928, and maintain accessibility of the theatre as a community institution that engages and inspires the art of film.
Q: But the Byrd Theatre is a historical landmark-doesn’t that mean that it already is protected?
A: No. While the Byrd is listed on both the Virginia State and Federal Historic Landmark Registries, all that gets us is the plaques on the front of the building. (And we had to pay for the plaques!)
Q: Have you ever thought of converting it to a performing arts center?
A: Certainly, although it would be very difficult to do. The Byrd was built as a movie palace and was never really intended for stage use. The stage is very small with almost no back stage area at all and no room for dressing rooms. We would have to acquire a lot more real estate (in Carytown!) to do so.
Q: How is the fund raising going?
A: Well, but there is much more work to be done! To date, we have raised $1.5 million towards our total goal of $5 million. Most of those funds have been raised within the past two years. Our goal is to have the theatre fully-restored by 2017 which means we need about $3.5 million dollars in the next two and a half years.
Insert restoration icon here.
Q: Why not simply raise the price of tickets? That would help raise money for the foundation, wouldn’t it?
A: Not really… understand that, even though the Foundation owns the theatre, the day-to-day operations are still for-profit, so that money wouldn’t be considered donations to a non-profit organization. In fact, it isn’t all ours; the lion’s share of what is taken in at the Box Office must go to the distributors, the people who own the films we show. Higher prices don’t translate directly to more money for the restoration. And, perhaps most importantly, we want to remain a unique family bargain for the Richmond community and make certain that everyone can enjoy the Byrd. You can however donate to the Foundation at the Theatre- Feed the Byrd!
Q: So do you need a non-profit to stay afloat?
A: Yes. Our day-to-day business is set to generate enough revenue to be self-supporting. However, we cannot support the mortgage or our future goals on our own. Having the Byrd Theatre Foundation around creates the unique ability for the Byrd to continue to operate as an independent single-screen theatre. The BTF is there to protect this historical icon from future uncertainties while we expand our educational and historical role in the Richmond community.
Q: Why don’t you show more classic and old films?
A: We do show classics from time to time and will continue to do so in the future. Being foundation-owned will make it easier for us to have more special and “classic” movie events.
Q: What was the Byrd Theatre before it was a movie theatre?
A: As we mentioned before, the Theatre was built as a movie palace. It has only ever been such.
Q: Why does it have the Wurlitzer organ?
A: At the time the Byrd was built, a significant portion of the films showed were still silent. Sound films were still considered a “new fad” and most industry experts were still certain the novelty would wear off and silents would become standard again. Theatres at the time, of any size, still had an organist who would provide mood music for the film and even sound effects.
Q: So the Byrd had a sound system when it opened?
A: Yes! In fact, it had two! It was the first theatre in the state to open as a sound theatre. There were other theatres which had added sound, but we had it on day one. The systems then were the VitaPhone brand system (made famous by the film, The Jazz Singer with Al Jolsen) and a Western Electric system. The VitaPhone system consisted of phonograph records that ran in tandem with the films.
Q: What was the first movie shown at the Byrd?
A: The Byrd opened on December 24, 1928 with Waterfront, a First National picture (not to be confused with the later On The Waterfront.) This movie was originally shot as a silent film and then half of it was re-done in sound to capitalize on the new “fad”.
Q: I love coming to the Byrd, but why do I have to wait outside after I buy my ticket?
A: The Byrd is wonderful but it is old. At the time it was built, movie going habits were different: people would buy a ticket at any time, go in and watch the film, a newsreel, maybe a cartoon and perhaps more than one film and they wouldn’t leave till they had seen everything. Also, incredible as it seems now, there was no concession stand! Because of these factors, it wasn’t considered necessary to build huge, cavernous lobbies. So there is no space inside the building large enough for a crowd to wait without blocking the safe egress of the patrons inside the auditorium watching the film. Thus fire laws, insurance concerns, and good ol’ common sense prevent us from using any of our interior space as a waiting area.
Q: Why don’t you show matinees during the week?
A: Because they simply don’t attract enough business to be profitable. Indeed, from a strictly profit standpoint, they are marginal on the weekends, but we want to continue offering them for our patrons who don’t want to visit at night.
Q: I love it when the organist plays the piano from the organ console! What about the harp? Does it ever get played?
A: The harp was brought in as decoration and came to us with a cracked soundboard, rendering it unusable as an actual instrument.
Q. How can I donate to the Byrd?
A. Click here!