The historic Florida Theatre is one of downtown Jacksonville’s greatest sources of activity and entertainment, and aside from a three-year closure in the ‘80s, it has been since it opened in 1927.
But did you know that Florida Theatre was originally one of several theatres along Forsyth Street?
Back in downtown Jax’s heyday, around a dozen other theatres could be found within its central core. Most of them were every bit as lavish and well-designed as the Florida Theatre – a few were even designed by the same architect, Roy A. Benjamin.
They served an important purpose, adding to the full cultural experience of the city during an era when downtown Jax was filled with high-end department stores and even-higher-end hotels.
Of course, as the downtown area began to decline, those department stores and hotels closed their doors permanently. It became clear that the area could no longer support the number of theatres that existed.
Those theatres gradually died off unceremoniously – and, as was the standard in Jacksonville until recently, their buildings were torn down rather than being preserved for reuse.
Today, Florida Theatre seems to adequately provide for the current level of activity in downtown Jax. But imagine how helpful it would be to have even one or two of those lost theatres around now, as the city looks to reinvigorate the area’s entertainment options. Or what could have been done with those historic buildings, even if the theatres themselves didn’t survive.
We’ve profiled a select few of those long-lost theatres of downtown Jax below, so that at the very least they won’t be forgotten.
Records show that the single-screen Arcade Theatre opened in the mid-1910s, in a building that was originally constructed for vaudeville acts.
Designed by Roy A. Benjamin, the theatre sat on a block between Adams, Forsyth, Laura, and Main streets and featured entrances on both Forsyth and Adams streets. It fit well over 1,000, allowing for large crowds despite having only one screen.
At some point in the 1960s, the theatre underwent a significant remodel and was rebranded as Center Theatre.
The rebrand bought the theatre some time, but it still ended up shutting down in the ‘80s. The building remained vacant until it partially collapsed in the early 2000s. The remainder of the structure was demolished and the site was cleared.
The property it sat on remains vacant, but it will soon be utilized for part of VyStar Credit Union’s proposed parking garage at Laura and Adams.