MARTINSVILLE — Early indications are that the cause of the fire that destroyed the historic Rives Theatre in uptown Martinsville on Sunday night was not suspicious.
Martinsville Deputy Fire Marshal Andy Powers was reviewing drone footage Monday to help determine the cause of the fire, Martinsville Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Ted Anderson Jr. said.
“We’re going to work with the insurance company as well,” Anderson said. “We’re not thinking it’s anything suspicious. All indicators are it most likely started in the attic area, but it’s too soon to give a definitive cause or a rough idea.”
“I’m sure it’s going to be a total loss,” Anderson said when asked to estimate the amount of damage.
The fire was reported shortly after 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
“We cleared up this morning [Monday] 3 to 3:30,” Anderson said.
When firefighters first arrived at the fire scene, Anderson said, the fire “had an hour’s jump on us.”
He said flames were burning through the roof and the entire attic.
Twelve to 15 Martinsville firefighters and several dozen firefighters from departments in Henry County responded. No firefighters were injured, he said.
Fire personnel contacted owners of adjoining properties so they could come and move vehicles and significant equipment and merchandise away from the Rives.
Anderson said the building, in the 200 block of East Church Street, was built in 1928 and has about 10,000 square feet of space. He described it as a one-story building with a significant attic. Exterior construction is brick and mortar.
The Rives is a former movie theater that now is used as a performance space, gathering place and general theater. The 275-capacity venue operates under the auspices of the nonprofit, annual Rooster Walk Arts & Music Festival.
Organizers have put on about 200 concerts there over about the past decade, said executive director Johnny Buck. Among those appearing there over the past three years were Billy Strings, Mountain Heart, Tab Benoit, The Commonheart, Acoustic Syndicate, Yarn, AJ Ghent, Doug & Telisha Williams, Leftover Salmon, John Cowan Band and Anders Osborne.
Rooster Walk leased the theater from Martinsville-based Brown’s Inc., and has updated the facility in the ensuing years, including last year adding a brand new, anonymously donated P.A. system.
“That’s gone,” Buck said.
Organizers were brainstorming new locations for shows they have already booked. Forever Doo Wop was scheduled to perform at the Rives on Friday, and Buck expected to have a Martinsville/Henry County venue ready to host that show. A double-bill of Jon Stickley Trio and Town Mountain was set for Nov. 2, and other shows are in the works, he said.
“The permanent home is in question, and what shape and form and location that will be,” Buck said. “But commitment to bringing outstanding live music to Martinsville and Henry County hasn’t changed a bit, and we will continue to bring those shows in. Even if it is going to be December and cold, it will be inside, somewhere in Martinsville/Henry County. We’ll work together with a lot of different community partners and a lot of these folks who are reaching out as we speak trying to lend a hand to find a way to make it happen, and make it a great show too.”
Mountain Heart, which features Bassett native Josh Shilling, was part of Brewster Walk, the beer-and-music-centric event held Saturday outside the Rives on East Church Street. Buck said that Shilling came to the site on Sunday when he heard about the fire, standing with organizers, staff members, volunteers, friends and family of the venue, talking and giving hugs. Other musicians who have played there over the years were texting and posting messages of support on social media, Buck said.
“Obviously it’s incredibly sad, and a big shock,” he said. But the outpouring of support has been equally amazing to me, and to everybody involved.
“There is a board of directors and a group of volunteers and folks that have been working together on the theater for about a decade now. Lots of people in the community know the names and the faces of who’s been a part of the theater for the past 10 years. Everybody who is part of our team at the Rives has been inundated with texts and calls and … social media, offering support, asking how they can help.”
Shilling wrote on his Facebook page: “I’ve personally played that room more times than I can count with various acts from all over. We used to watch movies in there as kids. The entire crew involved with the rejuvenation of the theater has done an amazing job bringing in top-notch talent from all over the country. We were just looking at all of the memorabilia inside Saturday night, and then just like that there we were standing in the smoky street together watching it all go up in flames. It was such a sad and heartbreaking scene.”
Roanoke Times music columnist Tad Dickens contributed to this report.