About a year after I moved to Lynchburg over a decade ago, I started attending Young Professionals of Central Virginia events to meet new people and get connected. One of those socials was at a place everyone called “The Academy.”
I hadn’t been to this downtown destination before but was intrigued—because the itinerary said we would be taken on a tour of the Academy’s “historic theater.” The Academy team had been working to raise money to restore the building and wanted us to see its potential.
After walking up a steep hill to Main Street, we entered the old theater through some rundown, dilapidated double doors. To be honest, I wasn’t seeing much potential.
Once inside, we were told to be careful and watch our step. It was dark and cold, with piles of rubble in the corners and cobwebs in the rafters. But I’ll use the words of Academy executive director Geoff Kershner, who described his first encounter with the unrestored Academy on page 72 in our feature story—it was “surreal.” Once I started looking closely (at the architecture and the faded, intricate plaster work) and started listening closely (to our guide who spoke of this turn-of-the-century theater back in its glory days), I started to get it.
There was something absolutely exquisite about that space—even in disrepair.
Fast forward to late 2018 and I’m entering those double doors again for a media tour of the historic Academy of Music Theatre as it was about to reopen for the first time since the late ’50s. Now, those double doors sit under illuminated marquee lights.
When we are led into the theater, it’s hard to imagine this gorgeous performing arts center is the same gutted space I saw 10 years ago.
The rows of classy red seats lead your eye to the stage with its two-story red curtain, framed with an ornate plaster border. Looking out from the stage, no detail was left unnoticed, all the way up to the ceiling that accommodates two balconies. It took about 60 years but a local effort finally paid off. Lynchburg’s landmark theater is back.
Our January/February issue is all about celebrating the “Best Of” Lynchburg and also looking forward—and with the completion of projects such as this in our beloved city, I believe anything is possible. The restored Academy of Music Theatre follows on the heels of the revival of the Virginian Hotel on Church Street. These are big examples, but countless efforts to restore once-thriving buildings and homes are underway everywhere you turn. Instead of throwing in the towel and starting from scratch, our community is rallying around this idea that our past is worth saving.
What a fabulous time it is to be living in Lynchburg.
Shelley Basinger, Managing Editor