Florida Theatre

128 East Forsyth Street,
Jacksonville, FL 32202

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ghamilton
ghamilton on March 31, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Funny you should mention spooks.I just saw the “GHOST LAB” guys doing the Florida.The place IS seriously haunted,as are so many old places.Good shots of the beauty of the place.

GeorgeStrum
GeorgeStrum on March 30, 2011 at 11:47 pm

This theatre is haunted. A spector of a man has been seen in the upper balcony in rowE. Strange sounds come from the projection booth. There may be the spirit of little girl as well. All of this information came from the program Real or Faked on the SyFy channel.

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on October 10, 2010 at 2:28 am

This webpage has pictures of the Florida as well as a focus on Elvis Presley’s appearance there in 1956 (which was somewhat controversial): http://www.scottymoore.net/FlTheater.html

AndyCallahanMajorMajor
AndyCallahanMajorMajor on July 24, 2010 at 10:38 am

Here are two pictures of the theater in July 2010.

RXD
RXD on December 19, 2009 at 11:25 am

Had the great pleasure of seeing ‘Othello’ here in the mid 1990’s (Laurence
Fishburne / Kenneth Branagh version). The experience was one of the best
blendings of film with venue that I ever had in a movie palace. The opulent,
moorish inspired architecture, classic & brooding, perfectly showcased the
bard’s ‘moor of venice’. Favorite front row center balcony seats only served
to heighten the illusion of being in another place and time. Lucky, lucky
Jacksonville to have this amazing movie palace (and still screening the
flicks that were made to be seen in just such a setting). Bravo!

Harvey
Harvey on April 11, 2009 at 9:22 am

1981 photo of the Florida here.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on November 28, 2008 at 10:29 pm

Here is an August 1956 photo from Life Magazine:
http://tinyurl.com/5pqpca

gemsroadwarrior
gemsroadwarrior on June 28, 2008 at 1:24 am

I remember the Florida Theatre from it’s down and out days when it was playing “Shaft”, “Blacula”, “Cotton Comes To Harlem” and “Super Fly”. It was pretty run down then, but glad to see that it has been revived.

atlmike
atlmike on May 15, 2008 at 9:56 pm

The Florida is alive and healthy. In the summer they have a movie series that’s always fund. Last summer when we were in Jacksonville we went to see “Stranger on a Train.” Vintage movies like this in a beautiful vintage setting like the Florida are special! The place doesn’t seem as huge as it did when I was a kid…but it’s still a big, handsome theatre.

theatreorganmana
theatreorganmana on April 23, 2008 at 3:29 pm

It has been a common misconception that Elvis played his “first indoor concert” at the Florida in Jacksonville. This is simply not true! If you research his timeline in 1956 (by Robert Fontenot) you will discover that he played The Carolina Theatres in Spartanburg, Charlotte, and Winston-Salem; The Atlanta Fox, the Atlanta Paramount, and the St.-Petersburg Florida Theatre (August 7)[among many other indoor venues] BEFORE his concerts at Jacksonville’s Florida Theatre, August 10-11

ghamilton
ghamilton on January 2, 2007 at 2:49 pm

Mr.Wood’s comments on the 1927 air conditioning system reminded me that Jax,till a few years ago,had a Jr.high named after the most vital inventor after Edison,Bell and Farnsworth-John Gorrie-the inventor of AC.Praise to the man.My late father went there in the 30’s.

ghamilton
ghamilton on September 6, 2006 at 6:39 pm

Thanks Mr.M,man of mystery.As stated above,I have a special love for the Florida.By the way,I have Mr.Wood’s book.It is a masterpeice.But he missed my early childhood church(1929) at Park and Copeland sts.

JackCoursey
JackCoursey on May 8, 2006 at 2:30 pm

Here are a couple of 2006 photos of the Florida.

Patsy
Patsy on November 7, 2005 at 7:51 pm

John: Interesting Elvis post! And we all now know where their Mighty Wurlitzer organ calls home today!

theatreorganmana
theatreorganmana on November 7, 2005 at 7:43 pm

In reference to Elvis Presley’s first indoor stage appearance occuring at the Florida, it is interesting to note that the Wurlitzer organ installed in the theatre (now at Grace Baptist Church, Sarasota, FL) was evidently used for Elvis' evening performance. Photographs of Elvis on stage during the matinee performance shows the organ covered, but photographs of the evening performance show the console uncovered. Most probably Jimmy Knight, the house organist, played the organ on that auspicious night.

waynewood
waynewood on September 30, 2005 at 8:03 pm

The Florida Theatre has 1,930 seats. The following excerpt is from my book, Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage:

FLORIDA THEATRE BUILDING
128-134 EAST FORSYTH STREET
DATE: 1926-1927
ARCHITECTS: R. E. Hall & Co. – New York; Roy A. Benjamin
BUILDER: George A. Fuller & Co. – New York
NATIONAL REGISTER SITE

On the spot where once stood an unkempt police station that had housed in its sordid career many of the riff-raff of the world, there has come into being a thing of beauty, a palace of dreams.

Thus reported the Jacksonville Journal following the opening night of the Florida Theatre, the fifteenth movie house in Jacksonville and undoubtedly the most lavish. The Florida Theatre was part of the short-lived American phenomenon of fantasy-inspired movie palaces that began with New York’s opulent Regent Theatre in 1913 and was spread by theatre promoter S. L. “Roxy” Rothafel. Every major city in the U.S. (and many small towns as well) built grandiose downtown movie theatres, whose ornate auditoriums were designed to heighten the escape from reality that was projected on the silver screen. In the 1930’s the Great Depression brought an end to the construction of these glittering show places, and the flight to suburbia and decline of downtown areas throughout the U.S. in the 1950’s and 1960’s doomed many of them to extinction.

But the capacity crowd at the Florida Theatre opening on April 8, 1927, had no reason to foresee any gloom. Theatre-goers were dazzled by the lavish interior, the theme of which was a Moorish courtyard at night. Fountains, dramatic balconies, coffered ceilings and a grand proscenium arch were embellished with polychromatic sculpted ornamentation. The program began with a fanfare from the American Legion Bugle Corps, followed by a live stage show “Pageant of Florida.” An eighteen-piece orchestra, which slowly rose into view on its movable orchestra pit, added to the spectacle. This was followed by the movie feature, a silent two-reel comedy titled “Let It Rain,” accompanied by Robert E. Mitchell on the “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ. After the program, patrons danced to orchestra music on the open-air rooftop garden, overlooking the city lights and riverfront from the seventh-story level.

The building itself was nearly as much of a marvel as the surreal movie auditorium inside. Over one-million bricks were used in its construction, and they were laid in a record twenty-one days using ready-mixed mortar for the first time in the South. The exterior walls were given an unusual texture by laying the bricks “with headers advancing.” Colorful ornamental terra-cotta was used to frame some of the windows at the second, third, and seventh-story levels. The Mediterranean Revival style facade was designed with a central Baroque parapet framed by twin towers, and it was originally topped by a mission-tile roof. The ground floor was faced with polished limestone and featured several retail storefronts, as well as the entrance to nearly 20,000 feet of upstairs office space, denoting the true mixed-use function of the building. (The roof garden was enclosed in 1938 to provide additional office footage.)

The structural framing of the theatre is unique, with two-thirds of the massive balcony supported by only two steel trusses, each of which spans ninety feet and is approximately 8 ½ feet deep. During construction it was reported that one of these girders alone weighed sixty-five tons. Another interesting technical aspect of the theatre is that it was fully air-conditioned at the time of its opening, a rarity in 1927. The basic components of this air system are still operational today. The theatre also had central heating and a central vacuuming system.

The Florida Theatre survived the Depression by using innovative features such as “Screeno,” a bingo game projected on the great screen, and “Bank Night.” Perhaps the most widely noted event in the theatre’s history occurred in 1956, when Elvis Presley made his first appearance on an indoor stage in this state. Life Magazine did a feature article on the performance due to the watchful presence of Judge Marion Gooding, who threatened to throw Presley in jail if his pelvic gyrations were too suggestive.

In 1980 the Florida Theatre closed after dwindling attendance had relegated it to showing largely “B-grade” movies. However, the Arts Assembly of Jacksonville purchased the building in the fall of 1981 and, after two years of painstaking restoration efforts, reopened the theatre as a performing arts center in 1983. The Florida Theatre thus joins over fifty other grand movie palaces nationwide that have been restored, including the Tampa Theatre and the Orpheum in Miami. The preservation of the Florida Theatre assures that future generations will be able to experience the grandeur of a bygone spirit of entertainment, as well as to enjoy one of Jacksonville’s great interior spaces.

StanleyNorton
StanleyNorton on September 21, 2005 at 4:52 pm

The Florida Theatre has never seated more than 2000 . It is Moorish but not atmospheric,
StanNorton

Patsy
Patsy on September 19, 2005 at 7:21 pm

I’d say this one is a must-see gem!

atlmike
atlmike on September 19, 2005 at 6:56 pm

The Florida remains a great movie house. My movie memories there include “You Only Live Twice”, “The Graduate” and “Hush, hush Sweet Charlotte.” My best friend and I often took the bus downtown to go to the Florida for first-run movies, or the Imperial and Empress down the street for double-feature horror movies. Later, when I was old enough to drive, The Florida was a great destination with a date. I agree with the comments above…it’s a shame The Florida is left alone downtown. But at least it’s still there…some cities don’t have any of their downtown theatres left…and this one is a gem.

Patsy
Patsy on March 10, 2005 at 10:03 pm

ghamilton: Your comment is so very true. I feel that if these theatres could just have held on they would be around today to reap the benefits of the changing downtown landscape and times. With the recent Super Bowl crowd downtown the theatres would probably have done quite well. “…..but what has been lost can never be replaced”….a true yet very sad statement! This is true for my hometown theatre, the Grand/Westfield NY which is lost forever.

ghamilton
ghamilton on March 10, 2005 at 8:24 pm

As a wee child in the Jacksonville of the 50’s,my family often went to the Florida and the nearby,magnificent Palace.That there is only one of the many that were in downtown at that time is a perfect example of the results of folks deserting downtown.The sad plight of jax has been somewhat reversed,but what has been lost,can never be replaced.

Patsy
Patsy on March 3, 2005 at 8:36 pm

This being an atmospheric and Moorish I’d love to see some interior photos of the Florida Theatre. When I read that the theatre in 1955 seated 3,155 I thought I was seeing things as that is a huge theatre capacity.