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Thank you for the wonderful aerial view of the Washington Shores Drive-In Theater. Are you from Orlando? We moved on Vineland Road in 1950 and I never heard anyone refer to our community as Roosevelt Park. Washington Park was the common name of this rural colored section outside the city limits of the segregated “City Beautiful”. It was actually quite “Third World” by today’s standards.
I was greatly frustrated by COLOREDand WHITEdrinking fountains at Kress and segregated lunch counters at drug stores (Liggett-Rexall, Emerich, and Stroud) and other dime stores like Woolworth, Grants, McCrory in downtown Orlando. Blacks were also barred from white-only movie theaters like the Beacham, Rialto, Roxy, and Astor in downtown Orlando, the Colony in downtown Winter Park, and the Vogue in Colonialtown.
The inviting smell of hot buttered popcorn (made with real butter) tried in vain to lure me inside while passing the box office of the first-run Beacham Theater on Orange Avenue, but I dared not enter. In 1954 I looked up at the dazzling flashing neon marquee advertising CARMEN JONES starring Dorothy Dandridge, my favorite actress of all time. Posters of sassy Dorothy as Carmen striking that world famous provocative pose were plastered all over the place, but I would have to wait 6 months to a year before that black movie classic moved to the new Carver Theatre for colored people on Church and Parramore Streets.
That hurt me deeply, because in Detroit or LA I would have walked right in any theater without giving it a second thought. Less than 3 blocks away from the Carver sat the rat-infested pre-historic Lincoln Theater where movies were even older, but the food was better. Both colored theaters were owned and operated by the Gordons –husband, wife, and Baby Hughey (their grown son). Baby Hughey was weird indeed and everybody called him a “punk"(the colored term for "homosexual").
In the early 60’s teen activists in the Youth Council of the NAACP were arrested while demonstrating against segregation at the Beacham and other public places in Orlando. I was president of the Youth Council when we engaged in sit-ins, wade-ins, and mass civil disobedience challenging southern tradition and American apartheid in the land of the free.
We also picketed the Carver Theater to show first run movies. We even planted a stink bomb (made in our Jones High School chemistry lab) in the Carver and howled as as those who crossed the picket line ran out screaming and cussing!
The first movie I remember seeing at the Beacham after it integrated was “Circus World” (starring an aging Rita Hayworth) in 1964. By the mid-70’s the Beacham had been renamed the Great Southern Music Hall featuring live acts like “Weather Report”. I tried without success to book The Supremes at the Music Hall but the famous trio rang in the 1974 New Year singing “Love Train” at the Contemporary Hotel at Disney World.
The Beacham now sits dirty and derelict in scruffy downtown Orlando, both in dire need of a major facelift. It is sad to think that the bright blinking lights and the smell of hot buttered popcorn are gone with the wind.
Columbia Street and Bruton Boulevard were once named Vineland Road which was a two-lane blacktop that meandered through west Orange County in all directions causing so much confusion that individual names were eventually adopted for specific segments.
Where could colored people see a picture show in Orlando before the Lincoln Theater opened in 1937?
I remember the Dosta Theater during the early 50’s when Blacks were forced to sit in the balcony. During intermission we entertained ourselves by dumping cups of soda (and piss!), pop corn, and assorted debris over the railing on unsuspecting whites sitting below. We were determined to get even with Georgia crackers â€œby any means necessaryâ€.
Golden Summers in Valdosta
Pissing from the balcony
on whites below
And the humiliating
Dairy Queen store.
The Mars was the closest neighborhood theater throughout the 50’s. When my family left Detroit in 1959 I thought the Mars was still open. Cartoon Saturdays was a noisy affair that attracted all the neighborhood kids. When I last visited Detroit in 1997 the building housed a church or some other ugly business.
Thanks for the info. Are you Daddy Lipscomb? The last movie I remember seeing at the Lincoln Theater was “Queen of Outer Space” starring Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1958. Do you remember what year it closed? I loved the old Lincoln because it had character and was kind of spooky…and I was in love with one of the older girls who worked the concession.
I miss the Lincoln, Frazier’s coffee shop, Sugar Bowl, Jazzette record store and all the street life that made Church and Parramore streets sizzle. But most of all I miss our little African-American village where I felt safe..and where fights were won by the best pair of fists.
By the late 50’s the Fisher Theater only screened second-run movies, but it was still a first class operation in every other respect. It was always a special treat to go to the Fisher no matter what was playing, because the Hollywood palace was a visually entrancing masterpiece.
We used to go to a picture show every Sunday evening after dinner when I visited my father and stepmother in Detroit during the summers in the 1950’s and this family tradition continued when I moved to the Motor City in 1957. I soon learned how to get around the city by bus to see different movies playing on Saturdays after completing my chores. The first-run downtown theaters and the Fisher were my favorites – and the most expensive – but that didn’t stop me because I was hooked on big city style and grandeur.
I left Detroit for good when we relocated to Los Angeles in 1959. I have been back several times since and was completely devastated by the destruction of a once proud and vibrant city.
My fondest Motown memories are the Michigan Central train station, Hudson Department Store, Fox Theater, Fisher Theater, Woodward Avenue streetcars and Sanders deli which seved the best hot fudge sundae made with real hot caramel. I miss the annual Thanksgiving Day Christmas Parade on Woodward and the dazzling movie marquees that lit up Grand Circus Park fronted by an outdoor newsstand – next to the public toilets – where I bought (or stole) little pocket sized male physique magazines hidden between the mattresses.
When “Gone With The Wind” debuted at the Fox Theater in Atlanta in 1939 Hattie McDaniel could not attend because she was black. In 1940 McDaniel became the first black to win an Oscar (for Best Supporting Actress) but at the Awards ceremony in the Cocoanut Grove ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles “Mammy” and her escort were seated at their own table – apart from the rest of the audience.
When I was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta from 1962 to 1966 I caught the Fair Street trolley bus and ventured across town to the Fox whenever my meager allowance would permit. Theaters and other public facilities in Atlanta desegregated during this volatile period of sit-ins, jail-ins, demonstrations, marches, and racial violence. The Fox was the ultimate escape and I marveled at the elegant surroundings like “Sam in Wonderland” as I roamed the hushed backlit Holywood cathedral.
I rarely get to Atlanta these days, but I am grateful the Fox has been preserved and recycled. Mid-town was always a vibrant area bustling with energy and remains one of my favorite neighborhoods, thanks to Atlanta’s gays who have done a lot to rejuvenate this southern oasis. I hope it is still alive and well.
Monday night was movie night for Jones High School students circa 1960-62. The NAACP Youth Council tried to persuade the Gordons to clean up the Carver Theater and show first run movies so we would not have to wait a year to see new releases. The Gordons tuned us out and flatly turned us down, so we decided to boycott the Carver (one of only three motion picture theaters in Orlando open to colored people at the time). Soon teen activists were marching around the block with picket signs and chanting â€œWe Shall Overcomeâ€. When we flipped the homemade posters on their sides to block access to the ticket booth, donâ€™t you just know Negroes ducked under the signs and ran inside laughing!
Beverly Albert North LOLs when she recalls, â€œWhite people driving by threw money at us in support. One lady even threw a $20 bill on the sidewalk. Chiiild, one of us snatched it up before it blew away.â€($20 then was equivalent to $200 today!)
Since we werenâ€™t making much progress, senior students asked our favorite teacher for help. Sam Smith literally went to the Orange County School Board with hat in hand to beg for instruments and supplies to equip the run-down outdated chemistry lab at Jones High School. Mr. Smith taught Chemistry and showed us how to make stink bombs. We then recruited top student and classmate Allie Parrish, who was smart, daring, and damn near whiteâ€¦and innocent looking enough to set off the bombs in the crowded theater without arousing suspicion.
Picket line crossers ran out of the Carver cursing and screaming – like a scene right of the â€œThe Blobâ€ playing inside – completely disregarding the â€œWalk, Donâ€™t Runâ€ warning. Picketers cracked up and laughed so hard that tears formed in our eyes. Some of us were later arrested for illegal picketing.
The last time I ventured into the Fox was during Spring Break from college in 1963. I rememember seeing the unforgettable “Days of Wine and Roses” starring Jack Lemon and Lee Remick. Sunday night at the movies was a ritual when I moved to Detroit in 1957 to live with my father and stepmother, but Dad was extremely “thrifty” and didn’t believe in wasting good money on first run movies shown at the Fox and other downtown theaters, so I had to sneak like a fox into the Fox whenever I got the chance. Was there an organ player during intermission or is it just my imagination? For me the Fox Theater and Michigan Central Station epitomized big city glamour, grandeur, and magic. I felt, “This is where I belong.” I was transformed.
I felt the same magical transformation when captivated by the Fox Theater in Atlanta after it integrated in the 60’s.
The Carver Theater also featured live minstrel shows – like “Silas Green from New Orleans” – from time to time. Children admission was only 9 cents in the 50’s and the concession stand included an outdoor walk-up window which opened before the theater doors actually opened. That meant I spent all my money on greasy french fries I was warned not to eat and had no money left over to see the show. So I would cry cry cry until some angel of mercy passing by gave me show fare. Over the years the Gordons always let me use the office phone to call my mother to pick me up after the second-run double feature. The village was caring, protective, and safe before integration destroyed Orlando’s black community.
Black professionals occupied hot little un-airconditioned offices upstairs: Realtor Herndon Harrison, Attorneys Perkins and Collier, Nettie Lambert (a piano teacher – imported from Europe – who even tried to teach me and other colored children how to play piano), et al.
The Lincoln Theater was not affected by construction of Interstate 4, but closed due to economics and the shift of Orlando’s black population to Washington Shores, west of Orange Blossom Trail. The theater was owned by the Gordon family who also owned the newer Carver Theater less than three blocks away on Church and Parramore. The Carver, Lincoln, and Washington Shores Drive-In Theater competed against each other by running the same second-run features. Crafty Black youngsters set up seats behind the white-only Orlando Drive-In on Gore and the SOBT and watched newer movies (without sound) for free. Integration of movie houses in 1963 eventually closed the Carver. During its last days the Lincoln Theater was dirty and rat-infested, but served the best food.
I was 13 years old in 1958 and desperate to see Brigitte Bardot in “And God Created Woman” during its long run at the Krim. When a highly edited version opened at the neighborhood Linwood Theater that year my 14 year old cousin “Pookie” and I hid under the seats after the Saturday matinee so we could sneek and peek at what all the fuss was about. Fortunately I was old enough to get into the picture show a few doors down from the Krim. Was that the RKO Uptown? It seems they were both just south of the 6 Mile Road intersection. I was devastated by the destruction of Woodward Avenue, Downtown, and the Highland Park commercial district as I rode through in 1997. In the late 50’s I used to take the McNichols bus over to Woodward then ride the streetcar downtown and have a hot fudge sundae at Sanders when Detroit was still vibrant, bustling and full of trees and jobs. It is so sad to see a once proud city now largely abandoned and deteriorated. Most of all I miss the grand old Michigan Central Station and the New York Central trains.