Crispus Attucks Theatre

Historical Significance

The Crispus Attucks Theatre, opened in 1919, was one of the only theaters in Virginia to be financed, designed, and built exclusively by African Americans. The developers were known as the Twin Cities Amusement Corporation, an organization of black businessmen which operated theaters in Norfolk and Portsmouth. The architect, Harvey N. Johnson, was one of Virginia's few black architects at the time.

The theater was named for Crispus Attucks, the first casualty of the American Revolution, a man of African and Native American descent, killed in the Boston Massacre of 1770. Various of Attucks' contemporaries referred to him as "mulatto" or "molatto," as an "Indian," and described him as "tall " and "stout." Later, abolitionists focused on his African heritage, lauding him as an example of a black American who played a heroic role in the history of the United States. But Attucks' ancestry also included Wampanoag forbears.

The Crispus Attucks Theatre hosted celebrity acts including Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx , Ethel Waters, and many others. The theater began to decline during the Great Depression, ceasing to function as a theater in the mid 1950's. In 1986, the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority began to preserve the Attucks Theatre, which was reopened in 2004 as a partnership between the City of Norfolk's Department of Cultural Facilities and the Crispus Attucks Cultural Center. The theater is now formally known as The Crispus Attucks Cultural Center. 

Physical Description

The theater's fire curtain is painted with a scene of the Boston Massacre by Lee Lash Studios of New York, depicting the heroic death of Attucks. The theater seats 600 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

Geographical and Contact Information

1010 Church Street
Norfolk, Virginia
23510
Phone: 757-622-4763

Images

Attucks Theatre Exterior

Attucks Theatre Exterior

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Crispus Attucks

Crispus Attucks

Public domain photo of portrait of Attucks, artist unknown. | Source: Image from Bridgewater State College archive in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. View File Details Page

Audio

Attucks Theatre on VFH Radio

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Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Crispus Attucks Theatre,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed May 25, 2017, http://www.aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/100.
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