Gates Theatre

322 High Street,
Portsmouth, VA 23704

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rivest266 on July 10, 2022 at 5:44 am

This reopened as Gates on August 29th, 1928. Ad posted.

norfolk356 on August 10, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Charles Maxwell Major, Sr lived from 1879-1965. Mrs. Major died in 1928. Both are at

Mr. Major’s office was in the building in the 1917 and 1931 city directories, but was at 408 Crawford in the 1921 city directory. Don’t know about other years.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 5, 2015 at 10:18 pm

Thanks for the extensive research, norfolk356. So we have this house opening as the Lyceum Theatre in 1900, being renamed the Orpheum sometime between 1907 and 1909, and being rebuilt following major fire damage in 1922. It’s interesting that in 1931 architect Charles M. Major, who drew the plans for the 1922 project, still had his practice in the office portion of the building.

norfolk356 on August 4, 2015 at 9:13 am


Lyceum fire should read Orpheum fire of 1922

norfolk356 on August 4, 2015 at 9:08 am

The newspaper articles indicate the theater was a wing running north to Queen Street which is what you had deducted. In fact the article about the Lyceum fire states the theater was on Queen Street which is where the auditorium must have been. One of the articles from 1899 mentions a proposed conservatory that was to be located on the vacant lot between the theater and the hotel. That could explain why a tree is visible near the Masonic building in the photo’s from the 1950’s. Even if the conservatory was never built, perhaps a garden was. Does the tree indicate the Gates Theatre used the same site as the Lyceum?

The newspapers state the Lyceum Theatre and Commercial Building opened in 1900 and the Hotel Monroe(formerly Hotel Portsmouth and Ocean House) opened in 1902.

After the renovations and new construction were completed between 1900-1902(?), the building seems to have been composed of three distinct sections, Hotel Monroe, Commercial Building, and Lyceum Theatre. I found offices in the building through at least 1930. The 1931 city directory list the office building as the Commerce Building at 322 High Street, the same address as the Gates Theatre. All room numbers were in the 200 series indicating that by 1930 the Commerce Building was confined to a single floor. Not sure if the 200 series would indicate the 2nd or 3rd floors. Some of the listings were; room #230 vacant, #231 Charles M. Major architect, #232 vacant, #233 Provident Relief Assn, #235 Max Aaron tailor, and so forth.

Retail tennants seem to have occupied the ground floor up until the fire of 1957. From the 1957 telephone directory I was able to extract nine businesses. All used a High Street address with the exception of the Hotel Monroe which listed it’s address as High & Court. The businesses in the 1957 telephone directory were; #320 Portsmouth Hair Dressing Parlor, #322 Gates Theatre, #324 Glazer’s ladies apparl., #326 Peoples Service Drug Stores, Inc., #330 Montagna’s Shoe Stoes, Inc., #332 Monroe Restaurant, #334 Fine’s Men’s Shop, #338 The Famous(listed elsewhere in the telephone directory as High & Court), and Monroe Hotel at High & Court. I couldn’t find any offices in the 1957 telephone directory. Perhaps by the mid 1950’s the Commerce/Commercial building portion of the building had been converted to other uses or was vacant.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 9:27 pm

I found this item from 1902. Apparently the opening of the Hotel Monroe was delayed for a year. There are no Virginian-Pilot newspapers available for 1901 to explain what was happening.

The Times: Richmond, Mar. 22, 1902


The opening of the Hotel Monroe in Portsmouth last evening was in the largest sense a perfect success. The doors of the elegant hosterly were thrown open early in the evening, and the public began to arrive immediately.

Many Portsmouth people as well as a number from Norfolk enjoyed the first meal served at the new house. Some of them let their cooks off and took their entire families to the Monroe for the evening.

The house looked beautiful under the radiance of the electric lights, and expressions of surprise and pleasure were heard on all sides. The Portsmouth people were delighted with their first glimpse of the new hosterly.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 9:10 pm

Virginian-Pilot, Dec. 13, 1900

The Hotel Monroe will not be ready for occupancy before March 1st. As yet no one has been selected to run it.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 9:00 pm

Virginian-Pilot, March 15, 1900

A large office building to be known as the Commercial Building has been fitted up with seventy rooms in it. The building will have all modern conveniences, including elevator, electric lights, steam heat, etc.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 16, 1900

The office building that has been cut off Hotel Portsmouth will be known as the Commercial building.

The Commercial building is nearly completed. The work of fitting up the entrance and putting in the elevator will be comenced very shortly.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Virginian-PIlot, April 15, 1900

On the night of Thursday, April 19th, Mrs. J. B. Shipp, of Portsmouth, assisted by leading Norfolk and Portsmouth singers, will open the beautiful new Portsmouth Lyceum Theatre with a production of Willard Spencer’s pleasing American -Spanish comic opera, “The Princess Bonnie.” This promises to be a very notable social event, as Portsmouth is very properly proud of her handsome new playhouse.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 8:13 pm

Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 17, 1900

The contract for the addition to the Hotel Portsmouth, or what will be the Monroe Hotel, has been given to Mr. Hazzard, the gentlemen who is now superintending the work. His bid was near $27,000. He will commence work as soon as he gets through with the old part of the house.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 8:03 pm

Virginian-Pilot, Aug. 17, 1899

Those who want to buy furniture at resonable prices should attend the sale at Hotel Portsmouth tomorrow.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Virginian-Pilot, Aug. 2, 1899

The boarders at Hotel Portsmouth were moving out all day yesterday. The hotel is virtually closed.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Virginian-Pilot, June 4, 1899


The Hotel Portsmouth and the Pig Point and Newport News Railway

The deal for the Ocean House and adjoining property was also consumated yesterday. The property was sold for $100,000, the new company giving Mr. Newgass $80,000 of bonds and he taking $20,000 worth of stock. Work will be commenced immediately.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Virginian-Pilot, May 24, 1899 Page 10


The Hotel Portsmouth To Be Very Greatly Improved

Several days ago the Virginian-Pilot mentioned the fact that several enterprising and progressive gentlemen had acquired the Hotel Portsmouth property by purchase, and that extensive improvements would at once be made. The improvements stated then were that the house would be divided into two parts, the western cost the or Court Street end being intended for hotel purposes, while the eastern half of the big building would be converted into fine offices.

The information then given was that the theatre would be finished and that improvements of such a wholesome and modern nature would be made by the new owners of this property that would please our people generally.

Perparations are now going on to do all that was then stated, and to give those interested a clearer insight as to what is intended to be done at once with the Hotel Portsmouth property, a brief description of the changes proposed are here given.

The eastern end, beginning at the main entrance on High Street, will be converted into an office building with latest improved elevator. The theatre in the rear will be fitted up in the latest style, with an entrance through the store now occupied by Buff Drug Store Co., with a conservatory in the vacant lot between the hotel and the theatre, with reception rooms for ladies adjoining.

The one story office building on Court Street will be replaced by a brick building, which, with the western end of the present hotel, will be constructed into a hotel to be run on the European plan. The ground floors will be tessellated, eighteen foot pitch with plate glass front on Court Street. The lunch counter, restaurant and bar will be reached from the Court Street entrance. The entrance on High Street will be made into a store. It is estimated that the entire improvements contemplated cost the new owners over $125,000.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 7:13 pm

Virginian-Pilot, May 10, 1899


It is said on what may be accepted as good authority that vast improvements will be made in the general appearance of Hotel Portsmouth. The idea is to divide the big building into two sections, using the Western, or Court Street section for hotel purposes, while the Eastern half is to be devoted exclusively to offices, fitted up in excellent style and made comfortable and attractive.

The stores are to be lengthened, the bar-room to be changed from its present location to front on Court Street, next to Masonic Temple, and the hotel entrance also to be on Court Street. The Opera House in the rear is to be completed and one of the High Street stores used as an entrance to it. The promoters are said to be Messrs. B. Newgass, D. Lowenberg, C. W. Grandy, Judge L. R. Watts and others."

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 3:42 pm

An obituary in the Virginian-Pilot from Nov. 23, 1998 and reprinted at states that Sydney J. Gates(1901-1998) owned and operated the Gates Theater in Portsmouth and the Roxy Theater in Norfolk while a young man.

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 10:23 am

From the Richmond Times Dispatch, May 26, 1922, Page 8


Theater Burns and Much Property is Damaged

(Special to the Times-Dispatch)

Portsmouth, Va., May 25— Portsmouth police and fire officials are facing another mystery as to the origin of a destructive fire which this morning destroyed the Orpheum Theater, and damaged the Masonic Temple, a part of the Court Street Baptist Church and other buildings.

The fire started in the northwest corner of the theater, which was vacated shortly before midnight. It had gained much headway when discovered shortly after 3 o'clock.

For a time the flames threatened several blocks, and assistance was called from Norfolk and the navy yard.

The theater is the largest playhouse in Portsmouth and had a seating capacity of 1,000 persons.

Other structers damaged were the Court Street Baptist Church, the Masonic Temples, and several small residences on Court Street.

The theater was located on Queen Street. The building was owned by the Portsmouth Improvement Company, and it’s loss is estimated at $75,000, with insurance of half that amount.

The close proxmity of the blaze to the Hotel Monroe caused an exodus of the hundred or so guests, carrying their baggage and others belongings. All escaped safely."

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 8:40 am

From the Virginian-Pilot, March 7, 1900, Page 10


Yesterday Mr. Leath, the lessee, Mr. VanWyck, of Norfolk, and Mr. Lowenburg inspected the new Lyceum Theatre. The gentlemen were well pleased with the building and expressed themselves in highest terms of it. Mr. Leath and Mr. VanWyck both said it was the handsomest theatre South of Baltimore, and that the people of Portsmouth should feel proud of it.

There has been so much said about the size of the building, the Virginian-Pilot scribe ventured to ask what was the difference between the seating capacity of the building and the Academy of Music in Norfolk. They answered that there was but one hundred difference, the Lyceum seating 1,200, the Academy 1,300.

The lower floor of the Lyceum will seat 760, the Academy 625. The galleries in the Lyceum, 440, galleries in the Academy 675.

Thus it will be seen that there will be more room on the main floor of the Lyceum than there is in the Academy. The scenery in the Lyceum has all been put in. The curtain is up, and the seats are all ready to be put in position as soon as the contractor arrives. It will be turned over to Mr. Leath April 1st., or near that date as possible.

Work on the entrance will be pushed ahead as rapidly as possible, in order to have it ready in time for the opening."

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 7:55 am

From the Virginian-Pilot, April 26, 1900, Page 10.

“Mr. E. Tatterson, contractor for the additional building of the new Hotel Monroe at Court and High Streets, says that the work will be pushed to completion as rapidly as possible.”

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 7:40 am

There’s an article in the Virginian-Pilot from January 28, 1900.

“Bids were opened Saturday at the office of Dwyer & Neff, architects, Columbia building, Norfolk, Va., for the building of the Monroe Hotel, Portsmouth, Va.

The building will be 56x114 feet, five stories high and pratically a fire-proof construction. It will be equipped with electric elevator, steam heat, private baths, and all modern improvements to make it a first-class hotel in every particular.

The building is part of the scheme of the Portsmouth Improvement Company and will be used in connection with the Lyceum Theatre and old Ocean House, both of which are being remodeled. The Ocean House is being made into a thoroughly up-to-date office building, to be known as the Commercial building.

Mr. E. Tatterson, contractor, who has the remodeling of the theatre and office building, was the sucessful bidder for the sum of $26,000. This figure does not include steam heating or any of the electrical work.

When all the work is completed Portsmouth will have an improvement which will reflect credit upon the stockholders of the Portsmouth Improvement Company and the architects, Messers. Dywer & Neff."

norfolk356 on August 3, 2015 at 6:08 am

Additional information.

On page of 84 of the Albertson book using a magnifying glass and a high powered lamp, I can see the front of the three story building that is to the north of the Masonic building on Court Street(Bankers Insurance 457 Court St.). Moving east from Bankers Insurance, I can see the three roof tops of the rear portions of the buildings. Using Bankers Insurance as my reference, the first roof moving East should be part of the rear section of the Gates roof. However, that roof looks slightly shorter then the next roof which is most certaintly the rear section of the Woolworth roof. The Woolworth roof and the probable Gates roof are not the the same height as I originally indicated. The Gates(?) roof is a little shorter. The probable Gates roof does not seem high enough for a theater auditorium. It does seem to be located where it should be which is where the current parking lot is located behind the Dollar General building.

Reviewing the books further I see the Ocean House drawing and some of the other stuff you informed me about. I forgot we had these two books.

norfolk356 on August 2, 2015 at 11:11 pm

corrections in fourth paragraph.


norfolk356 on August 2, 2015 at 11:02 pm

I checked my historical books and I have two books of interest I had not looked at in a long time. I have the Albertson book you mentioned above and Pictorial History of Portsmouth by Robert Wentz, Jr.

The most useful pictures in the Wentz book seem to be on page 55 and page 198. On page 198 is a photo, taken from Court Street, showing the demolition of the remains of the Hotel Monroe. That photo shows fire damage on the front half of the side wall of the Masonic Temple. The rear half appears undamaged. Where the two sections meet seem to be roughy in the middle. There’s something protruding from the roof towards the rear of the Masonic building. It could be a light fixture. The photo on page 55 is taken from the ferry slip looking west. In that photo the east wall is visible(the upper section of the Monroe wall that is against the Woolworth building). There are two windows visibe near the center of the wall. One window is on the fifth floor and the other is directly below on the fourth floor.

In the Albertson book on page 84 is a photo looking east. The Monroe Hotel can be seen and this photo clearly shows an L shaped building. Counting windows from High & Court along Court St, windows 1-5 are the width of the High St. portion of the Monroe. Windows 6-14 are the bottom of the L with window 14 connecting to the Masonic building and window 6 being where the two portions of the L connect together. I can see the top of a tree that seems to be near the rear half of the side wall of the Masonic building. Apparently there was a courtyard there. I can count three roofs moving west from the corner of Queen and Middle streets. At Middle & Queen I can see the roof of the rear half of the Grant building. The rear half of the Grant roof is the tallest of the three visible towards the rear of the buildings. Next is the rear portion of the roof of the Woolworth building. The next roof which seems to be about the same height and width as the Woolworth building is apparently part of the rear section of the Gates roof. Nearer to Middle & High Streets or about midway along Middle between Queen and High, I can see the feature sticking up on the Grant building where the lower portion meets the taller rear portion. Moving west from the feature I can count two roof tops. The two roof tops appear to be a portion of the front sections of the Grant building and the Woolworth building. I can’t see a third roof. I can also see the roof of the old building at the NW corner of High & Middle that is tucked into the Grant building.

The tree definently indicates that the auditorium must have gone from south to north as you believe. The view doesn’t seem to extend to Queen for the probable Gates roof. I can’t see anything sicking up that looks like the stage area of the Gates. That portion of the room doesn’t seem to be visible.

I used a magnifying glass to see the details but I have an untrained eye. I would scan the photos but I don’t have a working scanner. I hope this information is helpful and makes sense.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 1, 2015 at 1:26 pm

An L-shaped hotel with the theater tucked into the L seems most likely. But as the long side of the building was along Court Street, I think it’s likely that the theater ran north and south, with the stage at the north end and a side entrance for the stage at the northeast corner, behind the Woolworth building.

The July 26, 1922, issue of Fire and Water Engineering had a brief article about the fire that had recently occurred in the Orpheum. It doesn’t mention the hotel at all, though it gives the dimensions of the building as 100 X 25, which is surely an error and was probably meant to have read 100 x 125, which is what I’d say the modern building on the site is.

The listing for the Orpheum in the 1909-1910 Cahn guide says that it had 1,000 seats. The stage was 53 feet 6 inches between the sidewalls (which was probably the same width as the auditorium) and the distance from the footlights to the back wall of the stage was 27 feet 6 inches. Given those dimensions, and a lot 125 feet deep from High Street and only 100 feet deep from Court Street, plus the need to accommodate hotel rooms along both frontages, a north-south auditorium with the stage at the north end is more likely than an east-west configuration.

A guidebook published in 1907 lists a 900-seat theater called the Lyceum at 322 High Street in Portsmouth, and doesn’t mention an Orpheum Theatre. The Lyceum had to have been this house. The 1922 article about the fire says that the Orpheum building was 46 years old, which would give a build date of about 1876. I found the Lyceum mentioned in several publications from 1900, but so far none earlier. The house might have had a different name prior to that. It became the Orpheum sometime between 1907 and 1909.