“We want to make this the little theater that thinks big.”
— Old Town Theater owner Rob Kaufman
For nearly a century, The Old Town Theater served as a venue for entertainment ranging from vaudevillian stage shows to silent films, puppet shows and contemporary Hollywood blockbusters. But after the marquee dimmed and the doors were boarded up earlier this year, the Alexandria landmark is once again ready for its close up.
“We're going to do some wonderful things here,” said Rob Kaufman of PMA Properties and owner of the building. “Rather than films, there will be live entertainment including music, theater, dancing and magic in addition to lite gourmet fare — something for everyone.”
Originally opened Aug. 12, 1914 by Ralph A. Steele and W. Harmon Reed as the Richmond Theater, the 8,500-square foot venue was acquired by Kaufman last December from Roger Fons, who operated the theater for nine years.
Kaufman immediately went to work restoring the historic structure, which served at times as a community hall and overflow classroom in addition to being an entertainment venue.
“This is a real gem,” said Deputy City Manager Mark Jinks during a preview reception held at the theater Dec. 10. “Rob has done a magnificent job, as he always does, restoring the historic significance of the building.”
In the course of Kaufman's renovations, several significant elements original to the building were uncovered, including an upstairs billiards and dance hall and grand central staircase with “The Richmond” spelled out in mosaic tile in the lobby.
“A lot of credit goes to Rob as a community developer,” said Alexandria architect Wayne Neale, whose own restoration vision can be seen in several buildings in the 1200 block of King Street. “He's figured out how to make it all work. He has a great entrepreneurial spirit.”
Kaufman's original plan was to lease the building to retailers, but an outpouring of community support to return the theater to its historic roots led Kaufman to team with Comedy Zone DC's Tom Kennedy, who will serve as operations manager for the venue. Under Kennedy's direction, the new Old Town Theater Production Company will produce weekly shows and special events.
“We really needed something like this,” said Denise Papaloizou, who together with husband Christos co-owns the Taverna Cretekou Restaurant across the street from the theater. “Hopefully it will make things more lively in this part of Old Town. It's exciting to see the theater open again.”
Following a brief performance reminiscent of the theater's vaudeville roots, Kaufman took to the stage to thank the community and city officials for their support.
“This would not have come together without the City of Alexandria,” Kaufman said. “You often don't hear all the good work that goes on with the city but there was nothing but cooperation and a true team spirit on this project.”
The Old Town Theater officially opened to the public Dec. 12 with a performance by comedian and magician Kevin Lee, who has appeared on "Showtime at the Apollo", HBO's "Def Comedy Jam" and Jamie Foxx's "Uptown Comedy Club."
“I've still got a lot to learn about the theater business,” Kaufman said. “But Tom is going to be a great teacher and together we want to make this the little theater that thinks big.”
For more information, visit www.oldtowntheater1914.com.