Lost Jacksonville: The Theater District

September 1, 2009 39 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

"It's not anything we need to get too upset about or cry over. It's just a function of the marketplace. If there's no demand for it, it won't survive. It's the same everywhere." -Jim Gilmore, executive director of the Jacksonville Downtown Development Authority, regarding the closing of the Center Theater - 1/06/83

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 Hardwick’s modern Haydon Burns Library.

Image by The Florida Times-Union, page 402 of Jacksonville Family Album.

The often-crowded Stathis Restaurant, the Seminole Hotel, and the Roseland dance emporium were hallmarks of a lively Forsyth Street in 1928.


Images on page 196 and 197 of Jacksonville Family Album.

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.

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