Saturday, August 30, 2008

Franklin/Florida Theatre (Downtown)

Location: 710 Franklin Street
Status: Demolished


"Interior of auditorium during the time when the theatre ran silent films. This photo is dated 1924. Note the proscenium and small stage. With the arrival of sound films a larger screen & speaker placed within the proscenium hid the stage. Then in the mid-1950s a larger and wider screen was installed that stretched from the left to right exit doorways totally hiding the proscenium from view for all time. You can certainly see it was a small theater!" - Nick Di Maggio

"Addition of a canopy overhang, and a new "Franklin" blade sign. This photo is dated 1925." - Nick DiMaggio

September 18, 1953

The Florida is Demolished ~ 1978 or 1979 (Photos courtesy of Nick DiMaggio)

"The side wall comes crashing down. Note the "Florida" letters in front of the marquee. As the blade sign had been taken down years ago these letters were the only sign that identified the theatre as the Florida. The building to the left was the 18-story Citizens Bank Building also demolished shortly afterwards by implosion." - Nick DiMaggio

"The long hidden proscenium sees the light again!" - Nick DiMaggio

"Side shot from Polk street. Note the balcony stair marks embedded on the side wall." - Nick DiMaggio


Anonymous said...

Listed in the 1950 Film Daily Yearbook...712 Franklin Street...900 seats.

CheriD said...

The Florida theatre is where I discovered that my neighborhood friend had a crush on Elvis and I didn't. We went to see one of his "beach' movies and I just could not for the life of me see what was so special about this guy! Apparently I was a nerd and just didn't know that a guy who looked and talked just like all my boy cousins from Georgia, was something special!

Anyway, the Florida was the place you went just because you really wanted to see the movie and it wasn't playing at the Tampa. It had no charm compared to its rival across the street. We didn't know it back then, but those two in addition to the Palace were the frontrunners for the multi-plex theatres (with the one small exception being that they were not connected under one roof but were simply within walking distance from each other). said...

AS I said i worked for Florida while a Senior at HHS, 1958, usher, got off at 1 a.m. rode bus home, caught it in front of Sears store downtown, Florida ave. didn't work there long, switched to The Tampa. Florida was more of a kids movie, smart ass teenagers in balcony. Don't know when it was closed.
My Mother's friend at Trib. knew manager, Mr. Finley, still remember the Flashlight episide. One of 3, Palace, Tampa, Florida, walking distance, Palace was second in good movies, I thought.

Nick D. said...

Remember when the Florida Theater was called the Florida Theater? It was called the Florida when it first opened. Sometime later the name was changed to the Franklin. And a few years afterwards it was changed back to the Florida. It was a small, non-descript theater sandwiched in-between the Citizens Bank Building on the left, and O'Falks Department Store on the right. The Florida played second run double features for many years. It was one of 3 downtown theaters along with the Tampa and Palace that eventually fell under the ownership of ABC Florida State Theaters in the 1950s.

The 1950 Film Daily Yearbook lists the Florida as having 900 seats which I find very hard to believe. I don't think there's any possible way the Florida held that many seats. My best guess would be about 450 to 500 max and that would be pushing it. The main level probably held about 270, and the balcony certainly no more than 200 (figures are based on calculations made from a photo showing a portion of seats on the main level).

A friend tells me he spent many Saturday afternoons seated in the last row of the balcony up against the projection booth watching B-westerns. And on many Saturday afternoons there were 3 extra cartoons in addition to the daily features. In the early 1960s admission was 20 cents for kids, and 60 cents for adults (same as the Ritz in Ybor City).

I vividly remember my first visit in 1960 when I saw "The Mummy" ('59 color version with Chris Lee). My father drove a friend and I down to the Florida, and we stood in front looking at the poster while I begged my father to let me see it. He was concerned I wouldn't be able to sleep but I assured him it wasn't that scary, and I certainly wouldn't have any problem sleeping. He finally relented so my friend & I bought tickets and headed for the balcony. When the lights went down and the film began our hands went up over our eyes - it was so scary! And of course I couldn't sleep that night.

In February of 1962, Florida State Theaters announced the Florida had been selected as the theater that will feature the exclusive west coast engagement of "West Side Story" which had just won 10 Academy Awards. The film had been booked for an April opening at the Florida. It was also announced that the Florida will close for remodeling soon, and will convert to a new policy of playing first run features along with the Tampa and Palace.

So in preparation for the big event the Florida closed for renovations. The drab lobby was completely redone giving it a bright, modern retro-60s look. Gone was the worn red carpet now replaced by a newly-tiled floor. Silver and blue wallpaper covered the lobby walls, and new doors with small circular viewports were installed at both auditorium entrances which kept lobby and street noise to a minimum. The theater entrance was restructured with a new box office built inside the newly designed foyer against the right side wall. A large mirror covered the wall opposite the box office along with 4 new poster display cases that now featured "West Side Story" posters and color photos from the film. Bright lights hidden underneath glass panels below the marquee illuminated the foyer and entrance area tremendously.

There were only a few improvements made in the auditorium. Apart from new carpeting and a brand new screen, all seats on the main level had been re-upholstered with new red fabric. A dark blue waterfall curtain was installed in front of the screen (the waterfall design is a curtain that forms loops at the bottom and rises/decends) giving the Florida a small touch of elegance. The side walls of the auditorium remained exactly as they were. There were no changes made to the balcony or balcony seats.

A few weeks before "West Side Story" opened, ads began appearing in the local newspapers announcing that reservations to see the film at the New Florida Theater were now being accepted. Tickets could be purchased either by mail or at the box office in advance. This was all new for local filmgoers who had never heard of having to make reservations or purchasing tickets in advance just to see a movie. Admission increased drastically as well. The 20-cent and 60-cent admission was history.

Tickets for "West Side Story" were $1.50 to $2.25. The difference in price was based on seat location (main level, lodge, or balcony) and time of showing. The film was shown twice daily (matinees 2:00 evenings 8:30). Tickets were priced the same for children, students and adults. When the special engagement ended, admission reverted back to regular prices for adults, students, and children. "West Side Story" ran for nearly 3 months, and was followed by several big attractions over the new few years. Among the many notable films opening first run at the Florida were:

State Fair, The Pink Panther, Irma La Douce, Mutiny on the Bounty, Blood Feast, Tom Jones, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, Fun In Acapulco, Viva Las Vegas, The Longest Day, Torn Curtain, Hawaii, Romeo & Juliet, Wait Until Dark, Funny Girl, Rosemary's Baby, Planet of the Apes, Woodstock, Five Easy Pieces, A Clockwork Orange.

Sometime in 1974 the theater began featuring black exploitation films and not long afterwards the Florida closed its doors. The building remained locked until the late 1970s when a small crew of men arrived in two tractor trailer trucks, and began stripping the theater, removing all projection equipment, speakers, screen, seats, curtain, refreshment center appliances, etc. All equipment was loaded into the trailers and driven to Jacksonville for storage at Florida State Theater's warehouse.

The building sat vacant for a short time and was finally demolished around 1978-1979. Today the TECO building sits on the site. The front brick plaza directly outside the TECO lobby entrance is the exact spot where the Florida stood.

Here's a practically unknown secret about the Florida: before the theater had its own air conditioning unit, the building received cool air pumped in from the Tampa Theatre building via pipes that ran underneath Franklin Street. The pipes were connected to the Tampa's a/c unit and ran into the side wall of the Florida building. Thus, the Tampa Theatre supplied a/c to two theaters! Not sure what period this was but more than likely it was during 1930s.

Nick D. said...

Continued from above post:

Sorry! In my post above I accidently deleted a section describing the interior of the Florida prior to remodeling in 1962:

Although neat and clean the lobby was rather drab looking. As best as I can recall the walls were plain, sans any fancy decoration or artwork. I do remember the red carpet was showing signs of wear.

There were no doors at the auditorium entrances, only a curtain on a swinging rod that was swung open during intermission and closed while the show was in progress. Of course this didn't do much in preventing noise from the lobby or Franklin Street from entering the auditorium.

The side walls in the auditorium were painted light brown from bottom to midway up, and light beige from midpoint upwards. In the early "silent film" days The Florida had a proscenium and a small stage. The stage was hidden from view with the arrival of sound films when a larger screen and speakers were installed within the proscenium.

Then in the mid-1950s a new wider screen replaced the older one. This new screen stretched from the edge of the left exit doorway, and across the front of the proscenium to the edge of the right exit doorway giving the Florida CinemaScope capability. This screen was totally bare - no main curtain nor side curtains. And of course the proscenium was forever hidden from view.

So there you go. Yep, I enjoyed going to this small theater. I sure do miss the little Florida!