Commodore Theatre
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Admission:
Adult admission $8.00
Children 10-13 $7.00 (under 10 years of age are NOT admitted!)
Seniors 65 and over $6.00
We now accept credit cards,cash or gift certificates at the boxoffice. Pay with cash and receive one dollar off of these prices!

Sorry, no telephone
reservations, and same
day ticket sales only.

Gift certificates are available at the boxoffice for food and admission: a distinctive and affordable item that makes a GREAT gift for the holidays or any occasion!

Lucasfilm THX

Dolby Digital

Accessibility Information
Accessibility Information

History

Commodore ticket booth
Art deco detail from the Commodore ticket booth.

The Commodore was first opened in 1945 by the Wilder chain. It closed in 1975 due to the decline of the downtown Portsmouth, VA area. In June,1987, Fred Schoenfeld purchased the Theatre and began the restoration project.

The restoration work on the Commodore began in June, 1987, after a 12 year period in which the theatre had been closed. Fred Schoenfeld's idea was to restore the theatre back to the way it was in 1945, the year Bunkie Wilder opened this, his flagship theatre. The original design was for over 1,000 seats; however, the capacity had to be reduced down to 190 in the main floor dining area and 318 in the balcony.

Detail from a mural.
A detail from one of the painstakingly restored murals.

The artwork in both the auditorium and lobby areas was painstakingly reworked. The 20 by 40 foot side murals were completely redone with the original scenes repainted and enhanced. The ceiling was repainted in places that had been water damaged. All of the artwork in the lobby area is new, created by the artists from Wall Illusions, the Norfolk-based company who did all the artwork for the project. The main artist was James Nelson Johnson of Virginia Beach. The chandeliers are new; each weighs over 300 pounds and is made of Italian leaded crystal. The originals were florescent tubes that could not be dimmed. The artists recreated the original look of the auditorium through two murals, located in the two alcoves just off to the side of the inner lobby. The superb paintings were done from life prior to the demolition work.

The rear of the old projectors.
The rear of the old projectors. These were carbon arc units and had to be vented outside.

Fred Schoenfeld designed the Commodore's sound system with the help of George Lucas' THX Group at Lucas Film in California. We show 35 mm film exclusively in Dolby Digital sound. Our screen measures 41 feet wide and 21 feet high. There are 9 large JBL speakers mounted in the sound wall behind the screen and 22 surround speakers throughout the auditorium, 6 of which are behind the side wall murals! The original stage was set up with a fly loft, which allowed live stage shows to be presented along with movies; however, it was necessary to remove all of the rigging in order to meet the requirements of the THX Sound Certification. The auditorium, designed by Baltimore Architect John J. Zink, A.I.A., measures 85 feet wide by 90 feet deep, an almost perfect shape and size for today's film processes. The design is so good that balcony patrons and main floor patrons are not visible to each other, thus allowing each group to view the screen without distractions!

Fred at the old film rewind machine.
Fred at the film rewind machine in the old projection room.

Our kitchen occupies the old manager's office and men's smoking lounge. The balcony originally had no rest room or concession facilities. These were added so that the patrons sitting in the balcony would not have to walk down the stairs during the show. The ladies' smoking lounge was restored with new wall coverings, a chandelier, and comfortable furniture. The pay phone in the lounge is an early 1940's vintage that actually works! The marble bases on the table lamps were cut from the marble removed from both main rest rooms during construction. Both the table lamps and the ladies' smoking lounge chandelier were custom made for us by Morrison Studios in San Francisco.

Another view of the old projectors.
Another view of the old projectors before they were removed.

The marquee in front of the theatre has been restored, and included the addition of stainless steel panels and plating. All new bulbs and sockets have been installed, as well as new neon tubing. The original construction of the marquee was impressive: a six-inch-thick concrete roof with 20-inch T beams projecting 20 feet out from the front of the theatre. Estimated weight is over 30 tons!

The Commodore is dedicated to the memory of the men who trained Fred in this wonderful show business: Norman Powell and Kenneth Andrews. These men both nurtured Fred's dream and worked long and hard with him to make it a reality. Fred and his wife and business partner, Dr. Jean Haskell, thank all of our loyal patrons who have complimented us and been faithful movie goers over the years here at THE COMMODORE.