Renovations to the theater helped preserve the historic architecture, while new multi-purpose areas and state-of-the-art equipment usher the venue into a new era.
The Henrico Theater, an Art Deco movie theater and landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1938. The original building design was a stark contrast of a simple, plain white exterior with a vibrant, colorful interior, very typical of the period in which it was built. The goal of the project was to restore the character of this historic building while gracefully transforming it into a multi-use venue that would provide much-needed cultural arts facilities for the east end of Henrico County.
Henrico County wanted a facility that could accommodate not only film but also support live performance. This desire drove an early decision to reduce the size of the performance space from 782 seats to 400 seats. Reducing the number seats allowed for a full-sized stage, backstage and “green room” spaces, larger front lobby, a pre-function space, and restrooms. The second floor was then able to accommodate a multi-purpose area, including a catering kitchen and space for receptions and community gatherings.
It was essential that new work on the building have minimal impact on the historic architecture, as well as be clearly distinguishable from the original building. From the exterior, the elevator and stair additions were designed to blend with the existing stucco and curved wall façade. Inside, this distinction between old and new is most clearly seen in the spaces at the front of the building. In these areas, new walls are clad with cherry paneling, solid color carpet contrasts with the original patterned carpet, and glass doors and display cabinets fill openings to contrast with the original heavy plasterwork. State of the art mechanical, electrical, sound, lighting, and projection systems have also been seamlessly incorporated.
Extensive measures were taken to restore the building’s original Art Deco character and preserve architectural elements that remained. These works included restoration of the plaster walls and ceilings, metal and plaster decorative surrounds, lighting fixtures, stair rails, and the front marquee. Some original elements were recreated to match their historic appearance, such as the patterned carpet and decorative plaster bands. A historical paint analysis was also completed during renovation, uncovering the original bold and varied paint colors and patterns. Original elements have been left exposed to “tell the story” of the building’s preservation wherever possible.
What began as an 11,000 square foot, 782 seat movie theater emerged after an almost ten-year process as a 17,700 square foot, 400 seat performing arts venue. The Henrico Theater now serves the east end of Henrico County and acts as an anchor in the efforts to restore the character of Highland Springs.