During the first half of the 20th Century, Forsyth Street developed into Jacksonville's version of Manhattan's "Great White Way". Today, the Florida Theater is all that remains of a district that once had as many as twelve theaters within a compact walking distance.
Jacksonville's Great White Way
About fifty years ago, Jax residents made tracks to busy downtown department stores. For amusement, moreover, white residents frequented the downtown movie theaters along "The Great White Way," nicknamed in honor of New York City's show district. This Jacksonville entertainment area was a brightly-lit portion of Forsyth Street between Main and Newnan streets. (African Americans enjoyed the theaters and night spots that operated in the vicinity of "The Great Black Way," that is, Ashley Street in La Villa.)
Except for the Florida Theater, the downtown area has lost its cinemas and department stores, for they eventually went out of business or moved to suburban malls.
The Windle Hotel was located next to the Lynch Building (11 East) and old city hall. During its era, Forsyth was the home to a large theater district and known as The Great White Way. In the mid 20th century, the Windle and old city hall were demolished and replaced by Taylor Hardwicks modern Haydon Burns Library.
The often-crowded Stathis Restaurant, the Seminole Hotel, and the Roseland dance emporium were hallmarks of a lively Forsyth Street in 1928.
Crowds pack Forsyth Street in 1956 for the showing of The Lone Ranger at the St. Johns Theatre. Today, the theatre site is occupied by the Jacksonville Bank Building and former Gold's Gym location.
A view down east down Forsyth Street, from Laura Street. The block of buildings featuring Republic Theatre was demolished for a Landing related parking garage that was never built. Today, the site is home to a city owned surface parking lot.
Customers could enter the Arcade Theatre from either Adams or Forsyth Street. The theatre's former site was the proposed location of Cameron Kuhn's ill-fated Laura Trio parking garage.
Looking west down Forsyth Street in the 1930's.
The Palace and Imperial Theatres were located across the street from the Lynch Building (11 East Forsyth). This block of structures, including the Lane Drugs Building (image above) were demolished for the metal parking garage that occupies the site today.
Opened in 1919, the Palace was an early theater design by local architect, Roy A. Benjamin, who also designed the Imperial down Forsyth Street (Benjamin earlier designed Jacksonville's Arcade Theatre, later renamed the Center, as well as the opulent Florida Theatre some years later, also on Forsyth.) The Palace, which sat nearly 1900, was built for S.A. Lynch of Asheville, North Carolina and was originally part of the Keith vaudeville circuit. Around the time it opened, it was called "The Theater Beautiful" and "Equal of any and peer of many in the East".
During the 20s, with vaudeville on the wane, the Palace became a movie house, though after the larger and much more ornate Florida opened in 1927, the Palace's days as the premier movie house on Forsyth Street were coming to an end. The theater survived until 1956, when it was demolished along with the nearby Imperial. A parking garage is now on the site.
The Palace Theatre was located on the SW corner of Forsyth & Ocean Street. The Imperial Theatre can be seen next door.
The Palace Theater on November 19, 1938.
An early theater designed by Jacksonville architect Roy A. Benjamin, the Imperial was located on Jacksonville's "Great White Way", Forsyth Street (along with the Florida and Palace Theatres, both designed by Benjamin as well).
With a fairly elegant neo-Georgian style facade, the interior of the Imperial was not quite as ornate as the exterior. The Imperial sat nearly 1000. The theater closed in the mid-50s and was razed in 1956, along with the nearby Palace, and today a parking garage is located on the site of both theaters.
Located on the NE corner of Forsyth & Ocean, this site is currently a surface parking lot across the street from the Casa Dora Italian Restaurant.
The Florida Theatre
The Florida Theatre originally opened as Jacksonville's 15th movie theatre on April 8, 1927. The Mediterranean Revival structure was the city's largest theatre of the era and is one of only four remaining high-style movie palace built in Florida during this period.
Full history of the Florida Theatre:
Due to a heavy dose of shortsightedness, like many of the urban elements that made downtown a vibrant place a century ago, our theatre district no longer exists. However, it was another example of complementing uses clustering together in a way that reinforced walkability and stimulated pedestrian scale vibrancy.
As the city attempts to revitalize downtown, connectivity, historic preservation and compact clustering of complementing uses should become top priorities.
Images from Florida Memory State Library & Archives of Florida - http://www.floridamemory.com/PhotographicCollection/
Scanned images from Jacksonville Historic Society's Jacksonville Family Album (Jacksonville Public Library's Special Collections Department) - http://www.jaxhistory.com/photo-book.htm