Sun-Ray Cinema’s building along Park Street has anchored the Five Points commercial strip for nearly 100 years.
The four-story structure debuted in 1927 as home to Riverside Theater. It was designed by architect Roy Benjamin, who also helmed the designs of the Florida Theatre and San Marco Theatre among other local structures. It was one of the first buildings constructed along what would become the main commercial corridor of Five Points.
Riverside Theater became the first of its kind in Florida, as it utilized a special machine to show films with synchronized audio tracks – “talkies,” as they came to be known. Unfortunately, the demand for talkies in the Riverside neighborhood wasn’t high enough to cover the costs of the special machine; the theater closed in the ‘30s, and the machine was transferred to a downtown theater. Aside from a brief revival attempt, the theater remained closed for several years.
The surrounding Five Points corridor, meanwhile, continued to thrive, allowing for the building to draw interest from investors. It was given a remodel and reopened in 1949 as 5 Points Theatre.
5 Points Theatre proved much more successful than Riverside Theater, staying in business for more than two decades. Meanwhile, other retail shops came and went from the building’s other ground-floor units, including a uniform shop, a drug store, and a clothing store.
The theater closed once again in the ‘70s, corresponding with a downturn of the Five Points corridor. During that same decade, an extensive remodel covered up many of the building’s original architectural features with a new stucco exterior.
Following the renovations, the upper stories of the building were leased by Jones College and the city government.
During the mid- to late-‘80s, a live theater group occupied the old 5 Points Theatre space. River City Playhouse, as they were known, used the space until a new tenant, Club 5, leased the space.
Club 5 opened in 1991 and helped fuel the rebirth of Five Points as a place for hip, artistic-minded locals – while some less open-minded residents stewed over the venue’s often-provocative shows.
In 2004, longtime local car dealer Mike Shad and his family acquired the building and launched plans to revitalize it by converting its upper floors into just over a dozen loft-style apartment units, plus several office suites. That same year, the building was designated as a local historic landmark by city council. Club 5 became a casualty of the project, closing permanently in 2005.
Work on the project finished in 2008, at which point a revamped version of 5 Points Theatre opened within the space once held by its predecessor. The new theater proved to be outdated, though, and soon a new purveyor expressed interest in the space.
After another brief remodel, Sun-Ray Cinema opened in 2011. The new theater proved successful and has since added a second screen and even a new COVID-inspired drive-in theater.
Today, Sun-Ray occupies the building’s ground floor along with its new Pizza Cave concept, Motion Sweets, and Brew 5 Points.