Alexandria's Old Town Theater To Stay A Theater | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : Morning Edition

Alexandria's Old Town Theater To Stay A Theater

Building will revisit its Vaudeville roots after renovation

Play associated audio
Old Town Theater owner Rob Kauffman, center, examines one of the theater's original marquee letters on King Street in Alexandria. The theater is undergoing a significant renovation. 
Michael Pope
Old Town Theater owner Rob Kauffman, center, examines one of the theater's original marquee letters on King Street in Alexandria. The theater is undergoing a significant renovation. 

Vaudeville is coming back to King Street in Alexandria, where the historic Old Town Theater is being renovated to restore it to its original 1914 appearance.

The theater, which most recently served as a movie house mainly showing independent films, was slated to become a retail outlet earlier this year. But now it's getting a new lease on life, says new owner Rob Kauffman.

Kauffman had pretty much written off the idea of using the building as a theater after he bought it, he says, "because there really are not many examples of a successful theater."

But some Alexandrians were outraged. "There was a lot of controversy," Kauffman admits.

During the past few weeks, Kauffman has been surgically removing parts of the building to reveal the hidden history of the theater. Layer by layer, the building is telling a story.

"This is the original billiard hall/dance hall that we have now rebuilt," Kauffman says as he walks the property. "Those windows have been covered by the rising bleacher seats for many many years. I didn't realize it was still here until we started to break it apart."

Two giant arches were discovered at the front of the building. Then there were the cast iron steps and slate stairs, which had been covered up years ago. Workers also discovered a central staircase that had long been forgotten.

"There's some things we can't find. We don't know what they used to be, and you can see outlines of them on the walls," Kauffman says. "But we're working with them as closely as we can with really no photographic history of this at all."

Kauffman is working with a theater operator who is going to have daily Vaudeville performances, including rotating short acts that people can enjoy while eating lunch. He's also hoping to have some kind of live event every night of the week, from improv comedy to lectures and, of course, theatrical productions. 

Walking her dog George outside the theater, Old Town resident Kim Harkin says she's very happy with what's happening at the theater.

"It's an old historic building, and it's going to be true to its roots," she says. "And who doesn't love a good show." 

The renovated theater is set to open by November.

NPR

Handmade Signs From Homeless People Lead To Art, Understanding

Artist Willie Baronet is on a 24-city, 31-day trek across the country this month, buying handmade signs from homeless people. He says the project has changed the way he views homelessness.
NPR

Rust Devastates Guatemala's Prime Coffee Crop And Its Farmers

Central American coffee farmers are facing off against a deadly fungus that has wiped out thousands of acres of crops. Coffee companies like Starbucks are pooling money to support them in the fight.
NPR

When Did Companies Become People? Excavating The Legal Evolution

The Supreme Court has been granting more rights to corporations, including some regarded as those solely for individuals. But Nina Totenberg finds the company-to-person shift has a long history.
NPR

What It's Like To Own Your Very Own Harrier Jump Jet

The Harrier Jump Jet is known for vertical take-offs and landings. It also has an accident-prone track record, but that didn't dissuade one pilot from buying his dream plane.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.