When I moved to Richmond in 2002, tadalafil I remember walking the strip down 2nd Street from Tropical Soul to Croaker Spot and seeing this beautiful shell of a theatre just shy of Croaker Spot. Not being a Richmond native, I eventually learned from transplants and natives that the shell used to be the Hippodrome Theatre. Whenever anyone talks about the mythic history of 2nd Street and the talent that passed through Richmond on the chitlin’ circuit the Hippodrome is mentioned. Now Tropical Soul and Croaker Spot on 2nd Street are no more, but the beautiful shell of the Hippodrome is now full of life, music, food and spirits. When the whisperings started that the Hippodrome was undergoing revitalization, I wondered if it would result in the gentrification that runs rampant in so many major cities. I was certain that the Hippodrome was going to become a true shell of its former self, giving up its ghosts for a Starbucks or some other popular, rapidly spreading chain. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Hippodrome has a rich and beautiful history, and thanks to Ron Stallings it will have a bright future. In the late 1800s, following the Civil War, Jackson Ward was culturally rich filled with African Americans, Italians and Russians. Smack dab in the middle of Jackson Ward “The Harlem of the South”, the Hippodrome was built in 1895 as a vaudeville and movie theatre. The Hippodrome hosted names like Louis Armstrong, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, James Brown, Moms Mabley, and Billie Holiday.
Historically, movie theatres ran with film that was highly flammable, and unfortunately the Hippodrome burned down twice. The second time it burned, only the internal portion of the building was burned leaving the beautiful outside that is still visible today. Changes in city planning like public housing and the placement of two major highways coupled with crime in the 1980s and ‘90s all but smothered the former glory of Jackson Ward. However, the Hippodrome is seen as a neighborhood heirloom, and in 2011 Stallings, through the Walker Row partnership, completed the refurbishment of the Hippodrome as well as two other buildings, all of which are now part of the Hippodrome Venues.
Next door to the Hippodrome is Mansion Five26. Two African American men, Rev. Taylor and W.W Brown started the first African American bank in the world. Their endeavor was very profitable and with their gains they built the 30 room mansion. This mansion was said to be the largest home owned by an African American at that time. When the mansion fell into disrepair it became a speakeasy. Mansion Five26 is a restaurant specializing in South Eastern cuisine and is unique in its fare and focus. Visiting Mansion Five26, people will get a chance to taste new spins on old favorites like chicken and waffles and spiced salmon with pickled beets. Behind Mansion Five26 is The Speakeasy Lounge. The Speakeasy shares a more intimate vibe which hosts events like the Saturday Soul Social. Saturday Soul Social honors the Speakeasy tradition and vibe, allowing a space to come check out some of the funkiest indie soul music artists in an intimate environment where attendees can be close to the artists and the music. Artists like Zo! (of Foreign Exchange), Gordon Chambers, and Deborah Bond have graced the stage. The first weekend in October, Saturday Soul Social will party in Hippodrome during the weekend of the 2nd Street Festival. Jon Bibbs and Wes Felton will be the featured artists. Check out www.saturdaysoulsocial.com for more information.
The buildings have received upgrades in lighting, sound and video while still retaining relics that point to the historic renovation that has occurred. Movie projectors from the 1930s are still in the screening room, and the original spotlight that shone on the pioneers of music and film, who lit up the stage at the Hippodrome, still works. The inside of the Hippodrome Theatre is breathtaking. Standing in it, I can only imagine what it felt like to experience any of the legends that visited in its heyday. The Hippodrome is already making headway as a hub for entertainment. In less than two years since its opening, the Hippodrome has become the featured venue of the RVA Grooves movement. The Hippodrome stage has already hosted artists like Lonnie Liston Smith and Maestro J. This stage is also home to Richmond’s Lyric Ave variety show. Since its opening in 2011, it has hosted over 120,000 people at over 350 events, including the wrap party for Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln and Richmond’s fashion week. Ted X has been here in Richmond for TedxRVA, and most recently for TedxGraceStreet, The Hippodrome hosted the TEDxRVA open auditions.
Ron Stallings calls the Hippodrome “grown up entertainment”. It is a one stop shop for a great weekend. Stallings invites folks to come have dinner at Mansion Five26, walk next door to the Hippodrome and catch a play, show or concert and then head up to the Screening Room for drinks. Following the drinks, the real night owls could then head over to the Speakeasy Lounge for a live band.
The Hippodrome is giving back to the community too. The Hipp, as it is also called, has hosted fundraising events for nonprofit organizations for low fees or free of charge. Some of those events are: the Massey cancer centers for cancer research, the YMCA youth guidance, the ARC for Special needs children, a Bachelor Auction for cancer research and ROSMY for Gay/Bi/Trans youth.
Looking to open the arms of the Hippodrome even more, Stallings is now offering the space every Wednesday to any nonprofit looking for a space to do a fundraiser with no rental fee. Movie matinees will be scheduled on specific Saturdays for children in Richmond and surrounding areas. School tours will also be made available in the coming months. With the rich histories that bathe Mansion Five26, the Hippodrome and the Speakeasy Lounge, a chance for children to experience a local historical landmark is a wonderful opportunity.
The Hippodrome has only been up and running for 22 months and in that short time it has accomplished quite a lot and has a lot more on its plate for the future. It is rare that spaces of rich history maintain those legacies and stand firmly on that history to launch new and exciting experiences. The Hippodrome, Mansion Five26 and the Speakeasy Lounge are a wonderful piece of Richmond’s history that can be enjoyed. In order to find out more about the Hippodrome Venues and upcoming events, visit www.hippodromerichmond.com.