“Hurriquake” Fast-Forwards Facelift for Empire Theatre 

click to enlarge Richmond’s recent natural disasters threatened to fracture the facade of the Empire Theatre downtown. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Richmond’s recent natural disasters threatened to fracture the facade of the Empire Theatre downtown.

When you’re 100 — well, 99.7 — years old, things start to fall apart. Especially if you’ve been bounced around a little bit.

Engineers discovered serious stress fractures in the facade of the Empire Theatre on Broad Street after the recent “hurriquake,” as Bruce Miller, artistic director of Theatre IV, calls it. Part of a wooden window frame crashed to the sidewalk, Miller says, and “there were other pieces of the building that were threatening to fall.”

So the theater company decided to speed up the renovation project it had planned for the 100th anniversary of the theater, coming up at Christmas. Workers have started removing the existing facade and restoring the original, classically columned look.

The Empire, one of Virginia’s oldest theaters, was modeled after the storied and now demolished Empire Theatre in New York City, Miller says. In the 1930s, a renovation “made it this sort of flat, white-bread building.”

The city’s Commission of Architectural Review has approved the renovations, Miller says. The project will cost about $500,000 — money Theatre IV has not quite finished raising. “So now we’re working a little bit on faith,” he says.

Nevertheless, the new-old look should be complete by Nov. 25, opening night for “My Fair Lady,” Miller says: “It’ll once again be the landmark it deserves to be.”

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