Project Spotlight: Masonic Theatre , Commonwealth Architects
With this summer’s grand reopening of the renovated Masonic Theatre in Clifton Forge, Virginia, a historic icon is back and open for business. Originally constructed in 1905 as a venue for stage performances and meeting facilities for the Masons, the theatre now houses four stories of multi-use space that can be used for a variety of community activities. The Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation worked closely with the Clifton Forge community and Commonwealth Architects to maintain the building’s historic integrity while creating a vibrant and welcoming place for residents and tourists alike. Supported by donations, tax credits and a Virginia Tourism grant, it was important that the project be financially sound and the finished product self-sustaining.
Commonwealth Architects completely rehabilitated the interior and exterior of the Masonic Theatre, ensuring connectivity and flexibility of the space, while keeping as many meaningful historic pieces as possible. “The community was incredibly excited about bringing the Masonic Theatre back to its original glory. The impact on and support from the community made an already unique and worthwhile project even more special,” shares Project Manager Susan Reed.
The building’s exterior was cleaned and repointed, which now shines brightly at night with new up lighting and a restored marquee. A new roof, restored windows, and new ADA entrance ramp enhance the building’s exterior. The fire escape was rebuilt and includes a pedestrian walkway extension to allow direct access to the outdoor amphitheater.
The Theatre offers several unique and multi-use historical spaces for community and commercial use: the main auditorium, underground lounge, concession area, community rooms and office space. The auditorium holds 545 seats and can be used for stage performances, movie screenings and key events. New contemporary seats provide comfort and are accented with end panels reflecting the spirit of the originals, which include the Masonic “M.”
The box seats were recreated faithfully from the historic drawings. The rich draperies and reconditioned chandeliers contribute to the majestic feel of the space. Also, state-of-the-art sound control, LED lighting and additional and upgraded bathrooms enhance the patron experience. A new loading dock was added to the back of the building and dressing rooms were redesigned underneath the stage and connect to the amphitheater.
The first-floor lobby is distinctive with mosaic-tile floors and a barrel-vaulted ceiling with original ornamental plaster. LED lights add a contemporary touch and enhance the vibrant feel. The existing ticket window was preserved and incorporated into the lobby.
The two-story annex, which was built in 1907 and is connected to the theater, received a renovated storefront and now houses new restrooms, a secondary lobby/coat room and mechanical rooms. The annex has several unique qualities that help preserve history. The focal point of the room is a chandelier designed by local artist Wendy Umanoff, built of parts from three of the original brass-light fixtures within the building and a film reel from the old film days. Another rare find is a historic sign, advertising a shoe manufacturer, that was uncovered behind the drywall. The sign was restored and runs the entire length of the wall and into the men’s room.
A lower-level lounge, called the “Underground Lounge” was created as a modern gathering place to relax and listen to music and host small musical groups. Original beams and load-bearing columns were kept. A new elevator was added in the corner of the lounge to connect all of the floors. The former segregated entrance on the balcony level was preserved as a small museum. On the third floor, the previous Masonic rooms were converted into a Community Room and and office space.
The renovated Masonic Theatre is bringing together the community of Clifton Forge and drawing new folks to the area, helping to fuel the revitalization of the surrounding community.
About Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation
The Masonic Theatre Preservation Foundation is an educational organization in Clifton Forge, Virginia. Started in 2010, its main purpose is to fund and support the renovation of the historic Masonic Theatre.
About Commonwealth Architects
Commonwealth Architects focuses on “Rebuilding Community” and provides a full range of architectural and interior architectural services to clients throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region. Founded and located in Richmond, Virginia since 1999, they offer a diverse range of services, including Architecture, Historic Architecture, Interior Design, Master Planning, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning. For more information, visit comarchs.com.
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