The Attucks Theatre is a historical icon here in Norfolk and it was the heartbeat of Church Street back in its heyday, 1919. This theater played a crucial role for African Americans in Norfolk, it was the hub of entertainment, rich in culture and a place of joy and zero responsibilities. The hustle and bustle this theater brought to Norfolk was paramount in the city gaining its “Harlem of the South” status back in the 1920s. Find some of the most interesting facts about the Attucks Theatre below. We hope that one day you can experience the theater’s historical and cultural beauty in person!
In 1919, the Attucks was among the first theaters in the United States to be designed, financed, built and operated by only African Americans.
The Attucks was known for its legendary performers such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Mamie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and so many others – it was known as the Apollo of the South. For those who may not know what the Apollo is, it is a theater in NYC that opened its doors in 1913 and played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul. So taking on the nickname, Apollo of the South speaks to the caliber of shows, entertainment and influence the Attucks offered Norfolkians.
Attucks Theatre was named after the first African American to lose their life in the Revolutionary War, Crispus Attucks. Today, you can find a depiction of the final scene when Attucks lost his life on the theater’s main stage curtains.
Aside from hosting famous performers, the Attucks Theatre was also a movie house for silent films and office space for African Americans. In fact, Harvey Johnson, the architect of the building, had his office here.
While the earliest memories were made at the Attucks, the next generation of show-goers knew the theater as Booker T. The theater had shut down to undergo some renovations back in 1933 and when it reopened its doors, this new name came with it.
In 1953 Attucks closed its theater doors for good. Soon after, Stark and Legum, a men’s haberdashery (a store that sells iconic brands of men’s apparel and designer hats), decided to move in and house their store here: and they did so for 35 years. While they have moved their storefront around a few times, Stark and Legum has been in Norfolk since 1924. Today you can find them at 723 Granby Street.
In 1977, the United States Congress deemed The Attucks Theatre a National Historic Landmark.
The Attucks underwent a multi-million dollar restoration and reopened in 2004 as the theater you see today.
Today, you can visit the theater and travel back in time to see what the beautiful space once looked like. Enjoy a show here since legendary performers still frequent this venue. For a schedule of the Attucks Theatre shows, click here.