Lafayette Theater

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The Lafayette Theater was a 1,000 seat movie theater on Charlottesville's Main Street, at the site of what is now York Place.

The Lafayette Theater (1921-1959) was located at 112 West Main Street. Originally billed as a photoplay palace under the British spelling, the Lafayette Theatre; the building eventually became known as The Lafayette. In the early 1960’s the building was torn down to make way for a new Rose’s 5-10-25 Cent Store. The York Place shops now occupy the Lafayette’s original footprint. [1]

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The Lafayette Theater opened January 7, 1921 [2] in the 100 block of West Main Street on what is now York Place. [3]

Its name was chosen as part of a contest held by the Kendler-Zimmerman Company. The winning entrant suggested that Lafayette was an appropriate name given the connection to Thomas Jefferson. [4] Opened on Thursday, January 6, 1921, The Lafayette had a seating capacity of 1,064 and was built at a cost of $150,000 (adjusted for inflation, $150,000.00 in 1921 is equal to $1,942,523.20 in 2019). The theater featured a $15,000 pipe organ to accompany the silent films. The attraction for the two big opening days of the modern equipped photoplay palace on was “Something to Think About”, a 1920 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The film stars Elliott Dexter and Gloria Swanson. The Picture Palace was described in the Daily Progress January 1, 1921 front page article as “The magnificent front of this new play house, which has created much favorable comment, hardly prepares one for the wonderful interior decorating and lighting of the largest, most beautiful, and most modern house of its kind in the South.”


The interior decoration of the Lafayette was executed by an artist of national reputation, Mr. Arthur Brounet (1866-1941) of 1133 Broadway, New York. Brounet Studios in New York, was a well-known firm that specialized in theater and lobby decoration. Arthur Brounet (1866-1941), a native of Le Havre, France, studied art in France, Germany and Italy at various times in his life. Among important theaters for which the decoration was credited to Brounet include the murals at Richmond's historic Byrd Theatre, opening in 1928 just as talking pictures were introduced. [5] (The first feature film originally presented as a talkie was The Jazz Singer, released in October 1927.)

Stage Setting

The stage setting was of old gold and silk draperies hand painted, with grand draperies of old rose velvet. The screen was sixteen feet wide. In the projection room were two type Simplex machines with two motor generators to secure the best lighting for motion pictures making possible a bright steady picture at all times. In the 1920s, people flocked to watch films in grand movie theaters. But business would drop off as the temperatures rose. The importance of ventilating and heating had not been overlooked in the planning of The Lafayette. By means of two large exhaust fans in the roof, the air of the auditorium was designed to change every ten minutes. (The first centrifugal chiller was installed in the Rivoli Theater in New York’s Times Square in 1925.) Opposite from the Lafayette Theatre was the Decker Billiard Hall.

Community meetings

The Lafayette was the site of many early 20th century political caucus and community meetings. Frederick W. Twyman (1872 – 1938), a commercial developer, politician and civil leader, was an active factor in the opening of two major early 20th Century performing venues in the city, the Jefferson Theater and the Lafayette Theater. At the time of his death, he was head of the Jefferson-Lafayette Corporation.


The Three Stooges performed at the Lafayette in 1947.[3]

Closing and legacy

On July 7 of 1959, the theater screened its final films. [4] It was replaced by a Rose's department store before York Place was built.

Paramount takeover

In 1935, there was a plan for the Dominion Theaters to take over both the Lafayette and the Jefferson Theater. At that time, Dominion operated all of the Paramount theaters in Virginia. [6]


  1. Closing of beloved Charlottesville theater reported in 1959 The Daily Progress staff reports December 28, 2017
  2. Web. This Day in Charlottesville History, official website, City of Charlottesville, retrieved April 18, 2012.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Web. The Jeff: Reborn, Carroll Trainum, The Hook, Better Publications LLC, April 8, 2010, retrieved April 18, 2012. Print. April 8, 2010 , 914, .
  4. 4.0 4.1 Web. Memory Lane, Ace Atkins, C-VILLE Weekly, Portico Publications, November 21, 2006, retrieved August 24, 2012. Print. November 21, 2006  page 18.47.
  6. Web. Paramount Firm Dickers for Two Local Theaters, Daily Progress Digitized Microfilm, Lindsay family, September 27, 1935, retrieved September 26, 2022. Print. September 27, 1935 page 1.

External links

Listing on Cinema Treasures