Saturday, June 15, 2024

Kimball Theater Reopens in Merchants Square this Weekend

Kimball Theater is reopening on Nov. 25. (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

WILLIAMSBURG — The doors of the historic Kimball Theater are opening Saturday to once again delight the public.

The Williamsburg Theater was first opened in January 1933. An official Radio Keith Orpheum theater (RKO), it was owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. Other popular RKO theaters included The Roxy Theater in New York City and Radio City Music Hall. The Williamsburg Theater was often referred to as the little music hall, while Radio City was known as the big music hall.

The theater held a massive grand opening event in January 1933. The William & Mary Players presented “The Recruiting Officer,” a play about two British army recruiting officers, a Pathé newsreel, a Disney silly symphony, a comedy short, and the world premiere of RKO’s “The Conquerer” starring Richard Dix and Anne Harding.

“Rockefeller built the theater to draw in business in Merchants Square, but to also create a center for the community. We were an official RKO Theater. We were part of that RKO Theater chain back then,” Marianne Johnston, Colonial Williamsburg Historic Events planner, said.

The Williamsburg Theater remained open until 1999.

Soldiers entering the Williamsburg Theatre in the early 1940s to view a special preview of “Beachhead to Berlin.” (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

In 2001, Bill and Gretchen Kimball funded a restoration project that earned them their name on the theater. During that time, it hosted evening Colonial Williamsburg programming, art films, William & Mary performing arts events, community lectures and concerts.

In 2017, William & Mary leased the space from Colonial Williamsburg during the construction of Phi Betta Kappa Hall. Since the lease ended in July, Colonial Williamsburg has been working tirelessly to renovate and restore the theater.

Johnston has been overseeing the current renovations to the theater. While she has been at the theater working, many have stopped her to tell her what the theater meant to them.

“This building is here for the community. We really want the community to use it and enjoy it. There’s so many people in the community that have fond memories of the Williamsburg Theater. Every single person that I’ve talked to that has come through here, whether it’s maintenance personnel or delivery drivers, they always want to tell me what they saw here. You can see the nostalgia come over their eyes. This building means a lot to of different things to a lot of different people,” Johnston said.

In preparation for its 90th anniversary, Colonial Williamsburg has been adding new elements to the theater, including an updated HVAC system, a fresh coat of paint, and a new movie screen. That said, the team is doing all they can to ensure the history of the building isn’t forgotten.

Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Colonial Williamsburg, September 28-30, 2001. Colonial Williamsburg President Colin Campbell speaks inside the Kimball Theatre. (Photographer: David Doody/Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

“With the reopening, we really want to tie this back to the educational mission of Colonial Williamsburg. Rockefeller loved movies, him and Walt Disney would have dinner at Bassett Hall and then they would come down to the Williamsburg Theater and watch movies. Walt Disney loved sitting out on the benches and talking to the William & Mary students. We’re theming everything as much as we can to 1933,” Johnston said.

The lobby will look like a 1933 movie theater, complete with a 1933 radio. The team also plans to hang evergreen posters with information from the archives of the 1933 time period, a popcorn machine, and more.

On Nov. 25, the theater will open to the public for the first time since 2017. There are a variety of holiday shows scheduled throughout the remainder of November and the entire month of December.

Tickets and the full schedule of upcoming shows at the Kimball Theater can be found on the Colonial Williamsburg website.

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