Friday, June 4, 2010

The Oldest Movie Palace

Virginia's oldest "Movie Palace", The Byrd Theater,was built in 1928. Since then it has been going strong year in and year out (with the exception of renovation times). The seats are old and torn, the roof needs some leaks fixed, and there are other things that could help this gorgeous old girl really shine...if only they had the funding.
Recently the Byrd Foundation was approached with an opportunity to win a grant from Pepsi Company. So, they decided to hold a writing contest to pick a favorite Byrd memory. I was one of the two winners. We begin filming soon..... (yay!!!!)

There are many reasons the Byrd Theater deserves the Pepsi grant. Its historical value to the
city of Richmond, its beauty, and nostalgia are just a few. However, the Byrd is (personally) very special to me.
When I was twenty years old, I moved from Florida to Richmond to be with my boyfriend who had just graduated from VCU. We didn’t have a care in the world. He was a musician and I went with him wherever he played. Between the two of us, we barely made enough money to pay rent for our small apartment, and we definitely couldn’t afford a night on the town. Whenever we had a chance we would empty the change jar in the kitchen and scrounge enough money for two tickets to whatever movie happened to be showing that night. We never checked ahead of time to see what was playing. We’d just walk down Cary Street, into this beautiful old movie house, and for about $4.00, have a romantic evening together.
That first Christmas I spent in Richmond was scant at best, but it was so very special. Christmas Eve night we walked to the Byrd to see “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The show began by the lights dimming and the Mighty Wurlitzer rising from the orchestra pit with a disco ball spinning above. The organist played carols and the entire packed house joined in song. After a few fun minutes of music, the organist ended his introduction to the main event with a blessing for the new year and a moment of silence for the past. Then, the opening credits, and my most favorite movie of all began. I was touched. At that moment, I knew more than ever there was just something special about this old place.
My boyfriend and I married, got jobs, and had our first child. We named her Zuzu (after Jimmy Stewart’s daughter in the movie). Zuzu is ten years old now, has a little brother, and as a family we’ve enjoyed Christmas Eve at the Byrd Theater every year since. Even if the Byrd kept the old torn seats forever, we’d never stop going. It’s as much a part of our family tradition as Santa himself. But, there is no doubt in any of our minds that the Byrd Theater is absolutely deserving of a grant to keep her beautiful, up, and running so that people like us can enjoy our Richmond tradition for years to come.

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