305 East Nine Mile Road
Architect, Edward Francis Sinnott
The alabaster temple to Art Deco on Nine Mile Road.
The Henrico Theatre, designed by Edward Francis Sinnott, is one of two surviving significant Art Deco resources in Henrico County. Located in Highland Springs, the Henrico Theatre was the most prominent and architecturally sophisticated theater in Henrico County when it opened on April 25, 1938.
Despite its then-rural location, it was designed and built to be the most modern and technologically advanced theater in the Richmond area.
The owners Charles A. Somma and B. N. Somma, were not new to theatre architecture. Charles A. Somma (with Walter Coulter) was the builder of the Byrd Theater, built in 1928 to the design of architect Fred Bishop.
The building was constructed of poured in place concrete, which created a monolithic structure that appears much larger than it actually is.
From cutting edge materials like monolithic poured concrete, high-tech equipment like the Simplex E-7 projector and year-round air conditioning, to sophisticated streamlined design inside and out, no expense was spared.
The interior of the theater retains most of its original ornamental detailing on the ceiling and wall planes.
Access into the ticket booth, storage closet and water fountain is at the foot of stairs leading up to the lounges. Ornamental railings remain in place at these staircases leading up to the second floor.
The men’s and women’s lounges are on the north and south walls at the front of the building. The lounges have a nautical feel created by curvilinear walls and chrome bands delineating four equal stripes horizontally around the room.
Between them are the projection booth overlooking the main theater space and the men’s and women’s restrooms toward the east street front wall.
The owners hired high quality workmen and subcontractors to complete the work. The general contractor was Doyle & Russell, who went on to work on Richmond’s City Hall.
Several of the subcontracting companies are still in business today and were considered topnotch at the time: Decorative plasterwork and painting by E. Caligari & Son (Norfolk and Massachusettes offices), theater chairs and lounge furniture by Heywood-Wakefield, stage drapery and equipment by Novelty Scenic Studio from New York City – even the exterior clock was a high tech creation from the International Business Machine Corporation (later IBM.)
In its grand opening advertisement in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, it was touted as “…a modern ‘Big City’ temple of entertainment set in beautiful rural surroundings…”
It was so well received, that in the 1940 Architectural Record “Poll” it was nominated by a distinguished panel of citizens to be one of the most outstanding examples of recent architecture in Richmond. (VDHR)
Today, Henrico Theatre is still going strong as a mixed use facility, hosting a variety of arts programming including movies, musical performances, and live drama. Its 2017-2018 Season is well under way, and worth checking out.
(Henrico Theatre is part of the Atlas RVA Project)
Rocket Werks thanks Gayle Hurley, who graciously provided a tour of this handsome building.
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