Saturday, January 1, 2011

Dixie: Vaudeville & Silent Films

The Dixie Theater, designed in Italian Renaissance Revival style by architect T.J. Collins and sons, opened in June, 1913. Then called the "New Theatre", it offered vaudeville shows and silent movies and was renowned for its elaborate, effusive decor. It was here that the locals cheered on the hometown boy, William Haines, who became the nation’s biggest silent screen star in 1930. Haines, born just a few blocks away in 1900, had spent many a thrilling time as a teenager in this brand new entertainment venue, never dreaming that he would someday appear larger than life on that very screen. After filming "Brown of Harvard," Billy Haines returned to Staunton for a visit in 1926, and a large crowd attended a screening of two of his silent films. After a disastrous fire in 1936, the theater reopened solely as a movie house with a new name, the Dixie Theatre. The exterior was greatly simplified, and the pre-fire third story was not rebuilt. The Dixie continues to screen films today. 125 East Beverley St., at the corner of Market Street.

Architectural interest (photo above): looking at the exterior along Beverley St., in the center of the second floor are three arches inlaid with terra cotta mosaic tiles. Above and centered between the arches are four theatrical laughing faces. Click photos to enlarge.

A photo of the original building, prior to the rebuilding after the 1936 fire. The third story was not rebuilt, and the glass in the second story windows was replaced with Art-Deco tile work.

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