Bright Lights

The Beacon Theatre in Hopewell continues to shine.

Richmond architect Fred Bishop may be best-known for having designed the Renaissance-revival darling Byrd Theatre, but the “Movie Palace of Richmond,” as it was affectionately called, has a lesser known sister—Hopewell’s Beacon Theatre—that has just as many charms in its own right.

Now a restored concert and events venue, Beacon Theatre was completed at a cost of $125,000 (roughly $2 million today) in November 1928 (the same week as the Byrd). The venue, which features both Colonial-revival and Art Deco décor, screened silent films and operated as a vaudeville stage in its early years. At that time, the second and third floors of the theater were used for apartments and meeting spaces by the theater’s commissioners, a fraternal organization chartered by Congress in the 19th century and known as the Knights of Pythias. The original theater also had an organ, installed at a cost of $10,000, not unlike the renowned Wurlitzer of the Byrd, although records indicate that the Beacon’s instrument was removed around 1931, its fate unknown.

By the 1950s, live performers like Sally Rand (the famous burlesque dancer) and Lash LaRue (the cowboy who would later teach Harrison Ford to crack his whip in the Indiana Jones franchise films) had left the Beacon, giving way to its popularity as a movie theater—popularity which persisted until 1981, when it was abandoned and sat vacant.

In 2000, Beacon Theatre was listed to the National Register of Historic Places—seven years before the Byrd received the same recognition—and it was around that time that concerned citizens began working with the City of Hopewell to halt the building’s decline.

“It is a beautiful building with an intriguing history,” says Chandra McPherson, deputy director of the Appomattox Regional Library system, which was later very involved in the restoration. “There was massive local interest in the Beacon being revived as a local landmark.”

In 2011, the City Council initiated a project to complete the Beacon’s restoration in time for Hopewell’s 2015 centennial celebration. The regional library system was drafted to oversee the work, and to research the history of the theater and ensure conservation of original details.

Jeanie Langford, the library system’s resident historian, says that her research “helped the city greatly with construction costs and tax credits.” Since then, the venue has enjoyed a revived popularity among the citizens of Prince George County, and in 2016 hosted the world premiere of Imperium, which stars Daniel Radcliffe and Toni Collette and was filmed in the Hopewell and Petersburg areas.

“The actors found it wonderful,” says Langford. “They were so impressed with the sound quality in the building. The original design makes it a perfect sound conductor even without the fancy new equipment.”

This year, Beacon Theatre is presenting a roster of concerts featuring big name country talents like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Wynonna Judd and Loretta Lynn. The venue will also host a handful of events and talks as part of its 2017 lineup, like a morning lecture by renowned wildlife expert Jack Hanna.,

Upcoming Events at the Beacon Theatre: 

Keith Horne’s Farewell Show
Feb. 11 at 6:00 p.m. Tickets from $15.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Mar. 2 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets from $30

Wynonna and the Big Noise
Mar. 9 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets from $37.

The Black Lillies
Mar. 25 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets from $20.

A Morning with Jack Hanna
May 6 at 9:00 a.m. Tickets from $25.
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