By John Arundel
Since the Old Town Theater closed in January, new owner Rob Kaufman of PMA Properties has been restoring it to its classic form to live out some faded grandeur, in time for its Dec. 12 reopening.
Originally opened as the Richmond Theater in 1914, Old Town Theater was the first permanent theater constructed in Alexandria. The owners reportedly operated a vaudeville theater on the first floor and a dance hall on the second floor until around 1932, and the dance floor was later replaced with a balcony. The cinema was twinned in 1980 and re-opened as the Old Town 1-2.
As Kaufman and the construction crew he hired for renovations started working on all three levels of the theater, they started uncovering things no one had seen in 90 years. Workers found a cast-iron staircase covered over in the 1920’s, and on the third level the crew uncovered a dance floor where Alexandrians danced the night away after Woodrow Wilson was elected President.
The theater reopened on December 12 after extensive renovations. Many Old Town residents pleaded with Kaufman to keep it open as a theater, after it fell on hard times when moviegoers migrated to the multiplexes with expensive Dolby Sound systems and grander screens.
A local production company will operate the theater as a live performance venue. A full calendar of matinee and evening performances featuring comedy, music, magic, and dance will be offered along with weekly appearances from nationally touring entertainers.
In addition to soft drinks and concessions, a gourmet, light fare menu will be offered, as well as a select list of beer and wine. Special events, catering, and full service production capabilities will also be available.
As an interesting aside, in June, Old Town residents awoke to see signs posted for “COMING SOON…Hooters Restaurant” at 815 1/2 King Street, site of the vacated theater. The Hooters chain is known primarily for its wait staff of mostly young, attractive waitresses usually referred to as “Hooter Girls” whose revealing outfits are played up torestaurant patrons.
But, Kaufman assures there will be no fried chicken wings or scantily clad waitresses any time soon. The signs had been a hoax. “I don’t know who posted those signs but I found the prank very funny,” Kaufman said. “Many people didn’t which is unfortunate. There appear to be a lot of people who have lost their sense of humor.”
Alexandria’s Board of Architectural Review approved Kaufman’s plans to revitalize the building, and Kaufman has signaled that the building will re-live some of its grandeur as a theater. “We developed a plan which I believe will satisfy everyone,” he said.