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.

Frolic Theatre

Sanborn map illustrating the location of the Frolic (741 W. Ashley) and Strand (701 W. Ashley) theatres.

The Frolic Theatre opened in 1925 and was owned and operated by Gus Seligman. Featuring a single screen with a seating capacity of 1,000, the Frolic Theatre was said to be the largest and best equipped colored motion picture theatre in the south. Located at 741 West Ashley Street, the brick theatre was situated just west of the Knights of Phythias Hall, between Madison and Jefferson Streets. During its heyday, the Frolic was known for serving up a consistent mix of programming. For example, in October 1927, a private screening of the "Moon of Israel" was held for 183 ministers, principals and school teachers in order to use their influence to further interests of the picture. This film was followed up by a showing of Oscar Micheaux's film "The Millionaire", after it was sent from Ben Stein's Douglass Theatre in Macon, GA. The Frolic survived 25 years before closing in 1950. Once home to the Frolic and its neighborhoods, this long lost block of LaVilla's Great Black Way is now the site of the LaVilla School for the Arts.

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