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Wed, 06.24.1914

The Hippodrome Theater in Richmond, VA. Opens

*The Hippodrome Theater is celebrated on this date in 1914. This Black entertainment venue is in Richmond, Virginia’s Jackson Ward neighborhood.

Charles A. Somma opened the Hippodrome Theater as a vaudeville and movie theater. The theater played a major role in the entertainment of Richmond's Black community during the early 20th century. It is located on Second Street in Richmond, once known as The Deuce. The Deuce was a famous center of black commerce in Richmond, and the street was lined with stores, restaurants, banks, and theaters. During this period, Richmond's Black community was heavily influenced by New York City's Harlem Renaissance, and the theater attracted big performers who were prominent in the cultural movement's performance scene.

These performers included talents such as Billie HolidayBill RobinsonRay CharlesNat King ColeLouis ArmstrongMoms MableyJames BrownIda CoxElla Fitzgerald, and countless others who performed on the Hippodrome's stage. In 1937, The Hippodrome Theater was purchased from Charles A. Somma by the Abe Lichtman theater chain. In 1945, the theater caught fire, and in 1947, it reopened its doors to the public. After the fire, the theater was renovated and remodeled in an Art Deco style of architecture with new features such as air conditioning and the latest technical equipment.

Once the theater was reopened after the fire, it functioned primarily as a movie theater throughout the 1950s. It closed in the 1960s, re-opened again, then closed again in the 1970s, and functioned as a church for a short period. The theater reopened in the 1980s as a movie theater. The theater's current owner is Ronald Stalling, and he continues to hold performances on the legendary stage and offer film showings. Directly beside the theater lies the Taylor Mansion, originally the home of Rev. William Lee Taylor. The mansion was built in 1907 by the architect John A. Lankford, and today it functions as the Speakeasy Grill restaurant, which specializes in southeastern cuisine. The Hippodrome Theater and the Taylor Mansion are part of Stalling's current project of returning Jackson Ward and Second Street to the important Black cultural sphere it functioned in during the early 20th century.

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