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Lights, color, action: New life for Charlottesville’s downtown cinema
Violet Crown Theater, downtown Charlottesville design proposal, 18 February 2014
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Rendering of the Violet Crown Cinema by Stoneking and von Storch Architects
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by Effie Nicholaou | Friday, February 21, 2014 at 5:44 p.m.

The new owners of the Downtown Mall Regal Cinema plan to boldly transform both the inside and outside of the theater as a home for independent film.

If all goes according to schedule, the renovated theater’s restaurant and stadium seating will be ready just in time for November’s Virginia Film Festival.

Earlier this week, Charlottesville’s Board of Architectural Review reviewed Violet Crown Cinema’s purple neon sign and the ’60s modernist design of the soon-to-be reconstructed façade.

“Hello, Nashville!” laughed board member Justin Sarafin when the idea of an exposed purple neon sign was mentioned by fellow board member Brian Hogg.

“I like the purple letters. I mean, why not?” Hogg asked.

The design was presented by architect Mike Stoneking of Stoneking and von Storch Architects.

William S. Banowsky Jr., co-owner of Violet Crown Cinema Charlottesville LLC, partnered with building owner Dorothy Batten to open the theater.

Banowsky started his theater business in Austin, Texas, and the Charlottesville venue will be his third location. The theaters focus on independent, documentary and international films.

“This is a really exciting opportunity,” said the city’s historic preservation planner Mary Joy Scala to the board. “We haven’t had a large new design on the mall since the Landmark Hotel.”

The board found the proposed design to be a vast improvement to the building’s current condition.

“There is a brick cliff there now,” Sarafin said.

“With the ticketing inside, the outside is very dead,” Hogg said. “This [design] does a lot for that intersection.”


Today's Downtown Mall Regal Cinema
Credit: Ryan M. Kelly, The Daily Progress
The new design also will include outdoor patio seating as a part of the theater’s restaurant. The proposal includes grey brick, large panel glass, a wooden marquee and outdoor patio seating. Board members showed excitement for the design, although they expressed doubts about the proposed patio canopy.

 

“It is not unlike the canopy at Caspari,” Stoneking said, describing the canopy’s appearance of steel frame and glass panels.

A couple of board members critiqued the canopy as making the façade look busy.

“Everything is so light, then you have the big ol’ hunk of steel coming across,” Hogg said. “All of the gracefulness you’ve managed to impart to this façade is gone.”

Stoneking referenced other modern examples on the Downtown Mall to argue for the firm’s not-so-historical design approach.

“This ’60s modernism is attractive to us,” Stoneking said. “It inspired us to do a full-length spread like Caspari.”

Stoneking presented several historic images of the building, explaining that it used to be occupied by Sears and Leggett.

“Leggett took the Sears property and made it one store,” Stoneking said, providing an example of one unified building façade.

Although the board, staff and architects favored the grey brick and clear glass proposal, a different —  more colorful — design was presented.

“The colors are really exciting, the purple is great … It says ‘cinema,’” said board member Laura Knott, referring to the alternate design.

The alternate proposal includes red brick, green tinted glass and a purple Violet Crown sign.

The interior space will include six theaters, a restaurant and a second-floor balcony. The second floor also will provide access to new stadium theater seating.

Ultimately, the board found the design to be a significant improvement to the current structure.

The board will review a final façade design and designs for the signage, exterior lighting and outdoor patio at a future meeting. Banowsky said he would like to begin construction and renovations in April to complete work in time for the film festival.

 

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