$63 million renovation of historic theater helps revitalize downtown Richmond, Virginia

Early in 2002, the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation and Wilson Butler Architects coordinated a comprehensive master plan for Richmond, Virginia’s art scene.

The goal was to revitalize the community by bringing in more arts and entertainment while providing updated spaces for Richmond’s symphony orchestra, ballet, and opera, as well as for smaller arts programs. Of the four theaters chosen to be included in the master plan, the Carpenter Theatre was selected as the first to be rehabilitated.

From the outset, the principals of the firm charged with designing the theater’s renovation knew it would present intriguing challenges. Bruce Herrmann, director at Wilson Butler, sums it up in a question: “How do you capture the character and spirit of a building and renovate it at the same time?”

The largest piece of the puzzle was that the project encompassed not one existing building, but two, and that they were built in very different styles.

The Carpenter, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has long been recognized—practically since opening day—as one of the most architecturally impressive theaters that contributes to the commercial sector of downtown Richmond.

With the financial help of federal and state historic tax credits, the Carpenter’s rehabilitation has brought life back into Richmond’s art scene and preserved an important icon to the city.

Rarely do you get a chance to design something that should have 100 years or more of life,” says Herrmann on having the opportunity to work with the Carpenter Theatre. “[Historic structures] have a tremendous amount to give back.”

Now, fully renovated and restored at a cost of some $63 million, the historic Carpenter Theatre is the cornerstone of the Dominion Arts Center. It features state-of-the-art lighting and world-class acoustics while still preserving its Old World feel.

Its large stage, great acoustics and 20 dressing rooms make it a performer’s dream venue. Carpenter Theatre’s main lobby includes two refreshment bars, concierge station and a gift shop, with two additional refreshment bars upstairs.

Four large mosaic tile murals of parrots serve as the backdrop to the four refreshment bars and are a tribute to the handmade parrot that has been perched in the lobby since the theater first opened in 1928.

Upon entering the refurbished Carpenter Theatre – with nearly 1,800 seats – audiences enjoy newly installed fiber optic stars twinkling overhead in the repainted midnight sky ceiling, one of the many preserved and enhanced elements of John Eberson’s original theater design.

Richmond CenterStage is a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to provide diverse local and world-class performing arts, transformative arts education experiences for students of all ages, and inspirational venues—all to strengthen the cultural and economic vitality of Greater Richmond.

In addition to its comprehensive BrightLights Education Initiatives and wide array of performances and productions, Richmond CenterStage hosts a range of resident arts companies and other performing arts groups in a collaborative environment and oversees a range of distinctive venues: Altria Theater at Monroe Park and the Dominion Arts Center which houses Carpenter Theatre and Dorothy Pauley Square—home to Rhythm Hall, Showcase Gallery, the Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse and the Genworth BrightLights Education Center.

Since opening in 2009 the organization has reached more than 1,000,000 people through performances and transformed more than 31,000 students, teachers and families through the BrightLights Education Initiatives.

The cornerstone of the Dominion Arts Center is the fully renovated, historic Carpenter Theatre. This grand theater has nearly 1,800 comfortable, spacious seats, state-of-the-art acoustics and brilliant lighting, including new fiber optics that enhance the ceiling’s sparkling stars. As the Carpenter Theatre celebrates 84 years of bringing entertainment to Richmond, Richmond CenterStage is excited that the space has been restored for new audiences to enjoy.

Added on to the Carpenter Theatre is Dorothy Pauley Square. On the first floor, multi-purpose venue Rhythm Hall features local performing artists and an array of activities, concerts and community gatherings. Attached to Rhythm Hall is Showcase Gallery, a visual arts space where audiences can gather before or after a show. Just upstairs is Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse, a 200-seat theater that provides an intimate venue for local performers and audiences to experience the arts.

See full NTHP article by Meghan White.

See Carpenter Theatre website.

See Wilson Butler site for Carpenter renovation & photo credits.

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