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The Pitts Theatre on South Main Street in Culpeper, Virginia was opened in May 1938 as a vaudeville movie house. The Art Deco building was designed by Nichola Roney of nearby Henrico County. It was part of the Pitt chain of theaters which ultimately consisted of 38 theaters running from southeast to northwest Virginia. The theater chain was founded by Benjamin T. Pitts of Fredericksburg, Virginia. It is one of only two of the original movie houses owned by Benjamin Pitts to still be used as a movie theater today.
At the time of construction the commercial center of Culpeper covered a two block radius centered around the junction of East and West Davis Street and North and South Main Street including the Culpeper County Courthouse. The Pitts Theatre was built on what had originally been a residential development just outside of the commercial area. In February 1937, the Pitt Amusement Company purchased the site for the new movie theater and an adjacent parcel of land from Anna Rixey who had lived on the site with her husband before he died. The Rixey house was demolished in May 1937 and construction began in August.
The Pitts Theatre cost $105,000 to complete: $75,000 for the building construction and $30,000 for the fit-out. The original plan was for the theater to have a seating capacity of 822, of which 600 seats were in the main auditorium and 222 situated in the balcony. When completed the capacity had been expanded to 926.
Illustrating the segregation that was the norm in Virginia at the time, the main lobby of the theater accessed the main auditorium which was reserved for white patrons only. Two parallel hallways flanking the lobby lead to stairways to the balcony for the use of African Americans. Traditionally, African Americans were relegated to balcony seating in churches and courthouses from the 18th to mid 20th centuries. Motion picture theaters used similar philosophies employed for these facilities prior to integration in the 1960s.
The Pitts Theater was renamed as the State Theatre on September 25, 1970 when it became part of the R.C. chain of movie theaters. It continued in operation until 1992 when it was closed down due to low attendance. The building sat empty for almost a decade, becoming perilously close to demolition. The property was eventually purchased by Greg and Liz Yates.
Led by the State Theatre Foundation the building has been given a $9.3million rehabilitation. This renovation has included restoring key historic elements such as the neon marquee. The renovation has retained the segregated hallways with their staircases to the balcony for the African Americans. A $1 million state-of-the-art sound system has also been installed to bring to life a 560-seat theater for live events. It reopened for business in May 2013. Unfortunately, though, it is now listed as permanently closed.
During the renovations, the State Theatre was listed in the National and State Registers of Historic Places in 2008 under its original name, Pitts Theatre.