The Richmond CenterStage opened in 1928 in the Virginia capital as a grand movie palace named Loew’s Theatre. It was reinvented in 1983 as a performing arts center known as Carpenter Theatre and hobbled along until 2004, when the crumbling venue was mercifully shuttered. There were plans for a comprehensive historic restoration but the funding never materialized.
The complex was finally started on its path toward restoration in 2007, when the Richmond CenterStage Foundation secured the $62.2 million necessary to finance the rehab.
With the Building Team of Wilson Butler Architects and Gilbane/Christman (CM) at the helm, the 148,245-sf historic theater wasn’t simply restored: It was reimagined, enlarged, and upgraded. The new 179,000-sf complex became home to four venues:
• Carpenter Theatre: the fully restored, original 1,760-seat auditorium with enlarged stage and an expanded lobby area.
• Gottwald Playhouse: a 200-seat black box theater.
• Genworth BrightLights Education Center: a training space for aspiring thespians.
• Rhythm Hall: a multipurpose venue.
The building’s extra square footage came from annexing the former six-story Thalhimers Department Store (circa 1939) adjacent to the theater, demolishing parts of the building, and gutting the remainder. The former retail space was transformed into the additional performance and education venues, offices, dressing rooms, and other support spaces.
The conjoined buildings featured a variety of exterior materials, notably brick, terra cotta, and limestone, all in need of attention. The façades were repaired, two new curtain walls were installed in portions of the complex, and new windows and storefront systems were added along one side. Inside, modern acoustical, lighting, rigging, and building system improvements were installed.
The project reopened in September 2009 and became what Walker C. Johnson, FAIA, principal at Johnson Lasky Architects, Chicago, and honorary chair of BD+C’s Reconstruction Awards panel, called “a real sparkler in downtown Richmond.” BD+C
Submitting firm: Gilbane/Christman (CM)
Owner/developer: City of Richmond
Architect: Wilson Butler Architects
MEP engineer: Girard Engineering
Structural engineer: Dunbar, Milby, Williams, Pittman and Vaughan
Size: 179,000 gsf
Construction cost: $62.2 million
Construction period: June 2007 to September 2009
Delivery method: CM at risk