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Vista Theatre to be restored in Altavista

After years of hoping to obtain Vista Theatre on Main Street in Altavista, the town of Altavista has purchased the property for $265,000.

Vista Theatre opened for operations in 1936, serving as a cinema in downtown Altavista for decades. At the landmark a couple could see a film and get a bucket of popcorn for less than $5 in the 1980’s, according to The News & Advance archives. Although its balcony eventually closed, locals continued to flock to the theater’s 600 plush velvet seats where legroom was plentiful.

Over the years, the venue was also used by various community clubs and societies, and even hosted a few swimsuit competitions, said Mike Hudson, executive director of Avoca Museum in Altavista, who studies local history.

Despite a fire in 1943 — a spotlight set the screen curtain on fire — owners worked quickly and reopened the theater just two weeks later. By the early 1970s though the theater’s insides had fallen into disrepair and the screens were filled mostly with slasher films. After a fire gutted the bijou-style theater on Christmas Eve, 1989, Hudson said, operations closed down, and the building has stood in relative disuse ever since.

The owner at the time, Todd Mattox, said the fire consumed everything in the auditorium, according to newspaper archives. It was not insured and was too costly to repair.

For more than two decades, Altavista Town Council has expressed interest in buying the two-story property and restoring the once-grand Vista Theatre into an entertainment venue, said Altavista Mayor Mike Mattox. Re-opening such an attraction could draw more artists and visitors to the town, and potentially create a handful of jobs. The town’s location off U.S. 29 makes it accessible to artists and travelers passing through, Mattox added, creating an ideal location for such a venue.

Last week, council member Tracy Emerson posted on the town Facebook page that the town purchased the property from its previous owner, Altavista-based optometrist Dr. David West.

The town hopes to restore the theatre with the help of grant money.

The purchase totaled $265,000, Altavista Town Manager Waverly Coggsdale said. A contract has been signed by the town and West, and Altavista will officially take possession of the old 14,000 square-foot theatre in nine months, giving the previous owner time to prepare for the transition.

Emerson said the current vision is to restore the theatre’s façade and help it look as it once did, complete with classic marquee lights. Usage of the venue may allow for multiple functions, including traditional movie screenings and a stage for live entertainment such as music and plays.

“We’re going to have to get some community input of what would be the best use for the property,” Mattox said. “Is it going to be strictly a theatre? Is it going to be where we can have concerts? Is it going to be where we can have plays? Are there other possibilities? We need to do it right when we go out there and make sure we get a lot of ideas, which I’m sure a lot of ideas are floating around Altavista.”

Immediate next steps will be building inspections, getting everything up to code, and having an engineering study done as the town considers exactly what it will do with the property, Mattox said.

Shannon Kelly covers Bedford County. Reach her at (434) 385-5489.

Shannon Kelly covers Bedford County. Reach her at (434) 385-5489.

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