Florida Theatre Building
Built in 1927 by R.E. Hall & Co., Roy A. Benjamin.
Built in the Spanish Eclectic Style and pervasively known as Mediterranean Revival, the Florida Theatre is an example of the large atmospheric, fantasy-inspired movie palaces constructed across the country during the 1920s. Only a few of these large ornate theaters remain in Florida with the noted ones being the Florida Theatre, the Tampa Theatre, and the Olympia (now the Gusman) in Miami. The Florida Theatre is also an excellent example of using Mediterranean inspired architecture adapted to meet the needs of a multi-story theatre building housing mixed uses. The seven story building features a central Baroque parapet framed by twin towers. Colorful ornamental terra-cotta was used to highlight some of the windows on the north and east elevations with the first floor faced with polished limestone.
The north façade of the Florida Theatre which faces East Forsyth Street features a central Baroque Parapet framed by twin towers topped with a barrel tile roof. Several of the windows on the seventh floor, as well as the windows above the marquee, are framed in polychromic, glazed terra-cotta and limestone. Ornamental features in the terra-cotta include mermaids and griffins. The ground floor on the both the north and east facades is faced with a polished limestone above which is buff colored bricks. The buff bricks were laid in Flemish bond with alternating headers slightly projecting to give additional texture to the exterior.
The Florida Theatre was a fully equipped motion picture and performing arts theatre, and included an orchestra space for twenty-four musicians and a large Wurlitzer organ. Over the years stars such as Eddie Cantor, George Jessell, Sally Rand, Bob Hope, and Elvis Presley appeared at the Florida Theatre. The most noted event at the Florida Theatre was the 1956 Elvis Presley concert which was his first appearance on an indoor stage in Florida. The concert was featured by Life Magazine because of the presence of Judge Marion Gooding, who threatened to have Elvis arrested if his pelvic gyrations were too suggestive.
The auditorium, including the lobby and stage area, of the Florida Theatre was restored by the Arts Assembly of Jacksonville and re-opened in 1983 as a multi-use community performing arts center. Currently, the Florida Theatre Building is owned and maintained by the City of Jacksonville. However, the Theatre portion of the building is leased to the Florida Theatre Performing Arts Center, Inc. which hosts approximately 200 concerts and events of all kinds each year.
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