South Theatre

Baker Street,
Emporia, VA 23847

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Pitts' Theaters Inc.

Architects: Henry Carl Messerschmidt

Styles: Streamline Moderne

Previous Names: Pitts Roth Theatre

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The Pitts Roth Theatre was opened around 1946. It was built to cater for a mixed clentele of colored and white patrons in separate areas of the theatre. The orchestra level seated 444 and was for white patrons, while the 310-seat balcony catered for the colored patrons. The proscenium was 27 feet wide, with a stage 39 feet wide and 14 feet deep.

It was part of the Pitts' Theaters Inc. chain into the early-1960’s. It was later known as the South Theater.

Contributed by Ken McIntyre, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

VaCousin on July 31, 2008 at 12:18 pm

The Pitts was the last standing movie theatre in Emporia Va when it closed, late ‘70s or early '80s. Emporia at one time had 4 brick and mortar theaters and one drive in. The other theaters were the Roxy, which stood near the Pitts across from the Greensville Courthouse and may have been earlier than the Pitts; the Shannon which opened in the 1950’s and was on the north side of the Meherrin River, and the Joyner, an all black theatre that was on Atlantic St, Hwy 58 near the intersection of 301 and 58. By the end of its life, the Pitts had been rechristened The South Theatre. The site now is where the Greensville/Emporia Library and other city/county buildings are.

kencmcintyre on July 31, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Did they ever advertise the theater by saying “This place is the Pitts”?

kencmcintyre on December 11, 2008 at 6:00 pm

South Theater should be an AKA, per the post of 7/31/08.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 27, 2013 at 5:23 pm

An article about Benjamin Pitts Enterprises' expansion program in Boxoffice of August 14, 1937, said that the new Pitts Theatre in Emporia had opened a few weeks earlier. The expansion program included new houses in Richmond (the East End Theatre), Fredericksburg (the Victoria Theatre), and Culpeper (the Pitts Theatre, now called the State Theatre), and improvements to a theater in Manassas.

I’ve been unable to find any period sources naming the architect of the South Theatre, but photos of it and the East End and Victoria show that they all had very similar fronts. The State had a different configuration, but a very similar style. It seems likely that all four were designed by the same architect. Our page for the East End Theatre attributes its design to Richmond architect Henry Carl Messerschmidt.

Pitts had taken over the Weiss Theatre in Emporia in 1931, according to an item in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star of October 20 that year, and the house was listed as the Pitts Weiss Theatre in the 1936 FDY. I’m not sure if the Pitts chain continued to operate the Pitts-Weiss Theatre after the new Pitts-Roth Theatre opened.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 27, 2013 at 6:41 pm

I’m not sure why this theater is currently attributed to John and Drew Eberson. It is not listed in the Wolfsonian-FIU project index of their works. The only Eberson project listed for a place called Emporia is a 1913 theater in Emporia, Pennsylvania.

I still think Henry Carl Messerschmidt is the architect most likely to have designed the Pitts-Roth/South Theatre, though so far I have no conclusive evidence that he did. In any case, I’m sure the Ebersons did not design it. The Wolfsonian’s index doesn’t even list a remodeling project by either Eberson in Emporia, Virginia.

There is one problem with my surmise about Messerschmidt designing this house, that being the NRHP nomination form for the very similar Pitts/State Theatre in Culpeper, Virginia, which attributes the design of that house to an obscure Richmond architect named Nicholas Roney, but I’ll address that question on the State Theatre page.

Also, I don’t know why we have this house listed in a place called North Emporia, which apparently doesn’t exist anywhere other than Cinema Treasures. The South Theatre must have been within three blocks of the Shannon Theatre, which we have listed correctly as being in Emporia.

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