An apparition of a body sitting in balcony chair.
That apparition was detected at the Florida Theatre, one of Downtown’s most beautiful historic landmarks. If the walls of the Florida Theatre could talk, there would be some amazing stories to tell. Lucky for us, though, the Florida Theatre staff offers tours to the public. I had the opportunity to do so at a recent First Wednesday Art Walk.
This tour explores of the stage, backstage, the “green room,” dressing rooms, the promenade, the Barnett Room and the balcony. It’s awe-inspiring from start to finish. Here are a few fun facts about the venue that fascinate me most:
- Elvis Presley performed at the Florida Theatre in 1956, one of his first headline concerts appearances on an indoor stage. The performance was the subject of a LIFE Magazine feature, and a local judge sat through the concert to make sure Presley’s dancing was not too suggestive.
- When the Florida Theatre opened in 1927 as a movie theater, Forsyth Street was known as “theatre row,” with half a dozen other theaters nearby. The Florida Theatre is the only one remaining.
- The theater is the city’s only remaining example of 1920s fantasy architecture and is one of only four remaining high-style movie “palaces” built in Florida during this period.
- The theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
- The back of the theater was originally open – no doors. After the Great Fire of 1901, many buildings were built in a way that large groups of people could exit quickly. Doors were not added until the 1980s restoration.
- Every level of seating in the theater contains different types of chairs. Rocking chairs were once used, and the balcony seats are original.
- Most ghost “activity” is said to take place in the projection booth. Speaking of the projection booth, the theater’s original projection equipment is used to screen the annual Summer Movie Classics series.
- The theater’s Barnett Room was a fully functioning nursery from 1927-1952 for patrons’ children while parents enjoyed a theater show.
- One of three original telephone booths just outside the theater doors still contains a telephone. Another houses an ATM; the other is used for storage.
- The elevated theater boxes to the right and left of the stage are purely decorative and were never used for seating.
- The architecture of the building has French, Italian and Moroccan influences.
- Capitals of the columns upstairs contain carvings of dolphins – look closely, and you’ll find them.
- The grapes on the vines just outside the theater doors are made of hand-blown glass, created especially for the theater in 1927.
Want to learn more? Take a tour: groups are invited to schedule a tour of the Florida Theatre; call 904-355-5661 for more information. Public tours are offered at the First Wednesday Art Walk. And, if you’re not faint of heart, stay tuned to the Florida Theatre website for future paranormal tours information.
It’s historic structures like the Florida Theatre that shine a light on the importance of historic preservation and show that with a little love and restoration, Downtown historic buildings can continue to tell great stories.