The Lost Theatres of LaVilla

March 23, 2016 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

During the formative years of Jazz and Blues in America’s late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jacksonville was a major performance venue in this part of the country. Unfortunately, not much is known by the majority of our population because much of this history resides exclusively on the black side of town during the height of the Jim Crow era. Much of this scene took place in the area downtown know as “LaVilla.” With this in mind, here's a brief a look at a few “lost theaters” of LaVilla.

The Colored Airdome

1913 Sanborn map illustrating the location of the Colored Airdome and Globe Theatre at W. Ashley and N. Broad Streets.

On May 4, 1909, Lionel D. Joel and Mr. Glickstein opened the Colored Airdome Theater on a lot next door to Frank Crowd's Bijou Theater at 601 West Ashley Street. They claimed their $5,000 open-air theatre was "positively the largest, grandest and coolest theatre exclusively for colored people in the entire Southland." Featuring over 800 seats, the Airdome booked its acts directly from New York, Chicago, and Boston. Tickets were sold for 10 cents and advertisements clearly stated, "Exclusively for Colored People." The Airdome's opening night included an orchestra led by Eugene F. Mikell, music director for the Cookman Institute.

Definitely the hit envisioned by owners Joel and Glickstein, the popular theatre quickly became known for its nightly standing room only audiences. Performances included "Mr. Joplin's Ragtime Dance" and the "Jacksonville Rounder's Dance."  Since 'rounder' meant pimp, it was later renamed "The Original Black Bottom Dance." Other popular acts included Petrona Lazzo, the "Cuban soubrette" and "Chinese impersonator" Coy Herndon and comedian Slim Henderson.

The Colored Airdome would also go on to put Jacksonville on the map during the formative years of a new genre when it was identified as the location of the first published account of blues singing on a public stage. The John W.F. Woods performance took place on April 16, 1910. The end of the Colored Airdome can possibly be traced back to 1912, when the women's clubs of Jacksonville persuaded the mayor to ban all theaters, vaudeville shows and movies to close on Sundays. By 1915, the Colored Airdome was no more.

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