Attucks Theatre - Norfolk
The Attucks Theatre during its heyday was the focal point of entertainment, business, and racial pride in Norfolk’s African American community because it was strategically located on Church Street, one of the most important and oldest thoroughfares in the city. Church street can be traced back at least to 1637 in Norfolk County’s Deed Books. It was originally known as the “road leading out of town,” because it was the only land route by which travelers could enter or leave the town.
The name of the theatre, “Attucks” commemorates Crispus Attucks, an African American man who was the first American patriot to lose his life in the Boston Massacre of 1770. The newly restored fire curtain on which is painted a scene depicting this historical event is suspended from the stage’s proscenium and still remains in the theatre today.
The Attucks Theatre was the brainchild of the Twin Cities Amusement Corporation, an enterprise of black businessmen from Norfolk and Portsmouth who developed the Attucks as a regional mecca for entertainment and commerce. Their vision was to develop a cultural center in the heart of the minority community where the citizens would be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserved. The theatre was named in honor of Crispus Attucks, an African American who the first to die in the Revolutionary War. Harvey N. Johnson, a noted African-American architect, was selected to design this facility.
When it opened in grand fashion in 1919, the Attucks showcased legitimate theatre (or plays), vaudeville and movies at a price the community could afford. During its heyday a host of legendary performers graced the stage of the Attucks including Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Mamie Smith, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx and many, many more.
The Attucks Theatre had a policy of giving the people the very best at the lowest possible price. Two acts were scheduled every week. The admission price was 25 cents. High-class pictures were shown daily in addition to the scheduled acts.
Though heralded for its cultural contributions, the Attucks provided many other valued services to the community. It was a great platform for advocating social and political reform. Educationally, it served as an adjunct facility for Norfolk Public Schools, hosting poetry reading, music recitals, writing contests, graduation exercises and Black History Week exhibits. For the religious community it provided accommodations for church services and concerts. Enterprise was a major function of the complex, accommodating the offices of leading doctors, dentists, attorneys, realtors and other professionals. During its heyday the Attucks was well utilized and loved by the community. It ceased to function as a theatre in the mid 1950’s. Today, as a state and national landmark, it is distinguished as the oldest remaining legitimate theatre in the nation that was completely financed, designed, constructed and operated by African Americans.