Theatre History

Explore the Byrd Theatre's past through this interactive timeline

  • Dec 24, 1928

    A Grand Opening

    1928 Grand Opening

    In 1928, just as talking pictures were introduced, the Byrd Theatre opened as an architecturally sophisticated film-only venue in the city’s West End neighborhood. Such an ambitious project represented a new scale of investment for the successful partnership of Walter Coulter and Charles Somma.

    The “motion picture palace” has its roots in the vaudeville “palaces” that preceded it by two decades. Structures designed for use with film no longer exhibited the horseshoe shape typical of traditional theaters.

  • Dec 24, 1928

    The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ

    The Wurlitzer Organ, originally conceived to accompany silent motion pictures is a one-person orchestra containing many percussion instruments and silent film effects in addition to dramatic and unique pipe voices. The Byrd's organ performed to its first audience on Christmas Eve, 1928 and has been in continuous operation since. 

  • Mar 8, 1935

    Golden Years

    During the 1920's and 1930's thousands of movie houses opened to meet the public's demand for affordable entertainment and an escape from the great depression. A crowd lines up outside the Byrd Theatre in 1935 to see "Roberta" starring Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Randolph Scott.

  • May 5, 1941


    The original lobby of the Byrd Theatre housed a fountain as seen in this 1939 image with the Stanley and Livingston Posters. In about 1940-1941, a small concession stand was created where the fountain once stood to sell candy. 

  • May 21, 1969

    Marquee at Night

    The Byrd Marquee and Blade attracted both the crowds and store fronts to the area leading the way to the development of the Carytown Shopping District. 

  • Oct 21, 1971

    Sign Comes Down

    The Blade sign came down in 1971. The Byrd Theatre Foundation has plans to restore this iconic sign with the next phase of fundraising and restoration. 

  • Apr 18, 1980

    A Historic Landmark

    The Byrd Theatre was designated a Virginia Historic Landmark in 1977 and a National Historic Landmark in 1980. 

  • Mar 29, 1986


    The Byrdettes made their stage debut on March 29, 1986. The ushers and concession people dressed in 1920's attire. The Byrdettes put on a high kicking chorus line review accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer. The Byrdettes performed on special occasions until 1989.