WATCH NOW: Removal of fire-ravaged Rives Theater in Martinsville almost complete

WATCH NOW: Removal of fire-ravaged Rives Theater in Martinsville almost complete

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It was on a Sunday night in September that the Rives Theater burned down in Martinsville, erasing an iconic structure that had been a vibrant part of the community for 87 years.

Now it’s almost gone. Removal of the broken debris is in its final phase and soon what remains of this landmark in uptown Martinsville will be no more.

Rives Theater opened as a playhouse in 1932 and for more than 70 years served as the preferred theater for area movie buffs.

In its later years the facility returned to its beginnings with the focus on live events, this time music being the main attraction.

For days after the fire, people driving by would slow down in reverence resembling a funeral procession.

Rives Coleman served as the theater manager before the theater burned. He was named after his great-grandfather, Rives Spotswood Brown Sr., the founder of Rives Theater.

Coleman said they had wrapped up after Brewster Walk on Saturday, an annual street festival that had taken place in front of the theater.

Some of the workers returned on Sunday afternoon to watch a football game on the big-screen, and the lights were out and the doors were locked by 7:30 p.m.

An hour later word came the Rives Theater was on fire.

Officials determined the fire started in an upstairs room, where two refrigerators were plugged into a single surge protector.

The roof was wooden and the fire was too far ahead of firefighters for them to save the building by the time they arrived.

As memories of the old building fade, talk about what will replace it can be heard among those that frequent the Uptown area.

Across the street BB & T is building a new bank building that will become a Truist branch, created through the merger of BB & T and SunTrust.

Also across the street is the old BB&T building, a 6-story structure considered to be the largest building in uptown Martinsville and soon to get its own new lease on life.

With the opening of the new branch bank, BB&T is giving the larger building to the city, and officials have already begun plans to partner with a contractor to renovate the property for multiuse.

“We have two proposals now,” City Manager Leon Towarnicki said. “They are both interesting, and we’re excited.

“I can’t talk about who they are or any details, but either one will be a good project for the city.”

As for the Rives Theater property, future plans are a mystery.

Said Coleman: "Right now the plan is for the demo company to get the building down, and then we shall evaluate from there."

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

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