Charles B. Moss, Jr, and his son, Ben Moss, led approximately 20 reporters through a part of the enormous building which began its life as a locomotive factory in the 1860s. Richmond's newest impresarios were cordial and forthcoming as they made their presentation and stood for questions.
All of the auditoriums will seat between 150 to 300 patrons, with the capability of showing 35 mm prints of movies. Two of them will be equipped to present films in a digital format.
The Mosses are Bow Tie Cinemas, a company that traces its entertainment industry roots back to a storefront nickelodeon in 1900. Headquartered in New York, Bow Tie now operates 150 screens in 18 locations in five states. Its location in Richmond will employ about 60 people.
Charley Moss revealed that after deciding Richmond would be a good city for his company to develop a new movie theater project, he and Ben were first looking at the old Berry-Burke building on Grace St., a block west of the Carpenter Center. But it was decided that building did not lend itself to such a use.
The last new movie theater to open in Richmond, within the city limits, did so 37 years ago, today. That was the Biograph Theatre at 814 W. Grace St. As it happened, your reporter was its manager on that very day. A double feature was offered: "King of Hearts" and "A Thousand Clowns."
This former theater manager applauds what Charley Moss described as something akin to a "zero tolerance policy" that Bow Tie has, when it comes to permitting disruptive behavior from audience members. No erupting cell phones, crying babies or chattering adults, please!
Bow Tie's owners will soon begin to write a new chapter in Richmond's show biz history. They will join a long list of characters. In a 1952 Richmond News Leader piece columnist George W. Rogers wrote about a significant figure in Richmond’s theater history, calling him, “... a theatrical proprietor, impresario and father of Richmond movie houses.” That was showman Jake Wells, who had been a big league ballplayer in the 1880s.
With his best days as a player well behind him, in the late-1890s the same Mr. Wells, as player/manager of Richmond’s minor league baseball franchise in the Atlantic League he became a somewhat dashing figure in the local nightlife scene. When he lost that sports gig he looked around town for what next to do. Imagining he had a future in entertainment, Wells took the leap to create the Bijou at 7th and Broad Streets in 1899.
The instantly popular Bijou offered selected vaudeville acts that fit into Wells’ concept of “family entertainment.” And, occasionally, a short film was thrown onto a screen, then more. The first venue thrived. With his brother Otto, Jake expanded into the Norfolk market, opening the Granby. In the early-1920’s Wells’ chain included 42 theaters in the Southeast.
Eventually, Wells cashed in his theater interests to concentrate on becoming a real estate development tycoon. In 1927, in the grip of a spell of melancholia, Mr. Wells drove out to the countryside, shot himself in the head, twice! and died.
Will Movieland eventually play a role in the story of where to play baseball in Richmond? Movie theaters can act as hubs for further development. Restaurants like to locate nearby. So, whether it's part of a plan, or not, more nightlife options will be coming soon to the neighborhood surrounding Movieland.
And, yes, along with its regular first-run pictures at ordinary show times, Movieland will also present classic movies on Sunday mornings and late shows on the weekend. Current plans call for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" to be screened at some point.
Let's do the Time Warp, again!