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.

Strand Theatre

H.S. Walker's Strand Amusement Company opened the Strand Theater opened on June 12, 1915 to a crowd of patrons at 701 West Ashley Street. Opening night entertainment was provided by the Russell-Owens Stock Company. In addition, the night featured an orchestra lead under the direction of former A. G. Allen Minstrel Company bandleader King Philips.

The Strand was known as one of the earliest examples of a theatre utilizing multimedia integration.  However, by 1916, the Pennsylvania and the New York Central Railroads were already successfully drawing LaVilla residents and black workers away from Jacksonville due to the negative social effects of "Jim Crow" laws.

Despite the area's changing economic demographics, the Strand became one of the original theaters on the Theatrical Owners Booking Agency (T.O.B.A.) circuit. After the opening of the Ritz Theatre in 1929, the Strand's era as LaVilla's main vaudeville theatre came to an end.

Eventually, the 900-seat, one screen theatre was converted into a motion-pitcure house and operated by National Theatre Enterprises. The Strand was closed down in December 1968 after National Theatre Enterprises failed to renew its lease. Less than a year later, the building was demolished in November 1969 after suffering significant fire damage.

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