Martinez+Johnson, Architectural Firm [Profile]

The Byrd Theatre Foundation is proud to partner with the architectural team at Martinez+Johnson for the restoration of the historic Byrd Theatre. The project team is headed by Tom Johnson, who is based in the firm’s Washington DC office. Martinez+Johnson is the nation’s premiere firm currently working in theater restoration, tackling some of the most significant projects across the US. While the Foundation has already executed some of the most important, but largely invisible upgrades, such as roofing repair, replacement of the boiler and chiller, and upgrading of the projection and sound equipment to the most exacting modern standards, much work remains to be done in keeping with the board’s recently formulated strategic plan.   

Photo: / Tamara Beckwith

Photo: Kings Theatre / Tamara Beckwith

At the Byrd, Martinez+Johnson have a unique opportunity to apply their skill with the ornate details typical of great movie palace architecture. The Byrd Foundation has asked them to use a light hand, while making sure that the theatre is as comfortable, flexible, and technologically up-to-date as possible. Instead of an abandoned or underutilized auditorium with a leaking roof and damaged interior, here they will be invisibly upgrading one of the nation’s best preserved cinema treasures, supervising the delicate task of inserting new wiring and piping and the careful cleaning of the intact painted plaster interior.

While many great motion picture palaces are re-configured as general performing arts centers, the Byrd Theatre restoration is centered around reinstating the theatre to its original grandeur and use, celebrating and promoting film as an art form and instrument of civic engagement. As Tom Johnson explained, “We understand the need for a phased restoration approach for the movie palace and that it will continue to function primarily as a film house. We also understand the desire to utilize as gentle a rehabilitation approach as possible, which is consistent with our own approaches to the historic theatres which constitute the largest part of our practice.”

Photo: Boston Opera House / MJ Architecture

Photo: Boston Opera House / MJ Architecture

Gary Martinez and Tom Johnson founded the firm in 1994 after more than a decade of collaboration. Their first projects included Meridian, Mississippi’s Grand Opera House of 1891, and the Plaza Theatre in El Paso, Texas. While not all their work has involved the performing arts, restoration of historic theaters has been the mainstay of the office. Over a period of twenty years, they have executed more than eighty commissions involving theaters and performing arts venues. Restoring a theater is much more than getting the projection technology and seating right and meeting modern life safety and building codes. According to the principals, “A true theater has two jobs. It has to invite people in—that means a structure that engages and welcomes the larger audience, the community. [It also] has to make the trip worthwhile—that means a perfect performance space where every element, from room dimensions to seat fabric, helps artist and audience connect at the most intimate level.”

The foundation looks forward to working closely with Tom Johnson and his team throughout the restoration process.


Featured photo: Kings Theatre / Tamara Beckwith