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Carrol’s Development Corporation launched the Carrol’s Cinema Plaza 1 & 2 on July 28, 1971. It was constructed in the era of twins, triplexes and quads in cinema exhibition history. This period featured theaters that were often built with comfortable seating and automated projection equipment. These venues were often found near or in shopping centers and malls and Carroll’s Cinema Plaza 1 & 2 was no exception. The Cinema was on Dorset Street (one “t” in the street name) across from a shopping center with a large Zayre’s store, a Wilson’s Home Center and a Shop ‘n’ Save. A year earlier, SBC had opened a competing twin-screen less than three miles away which has its own Cinema Treasure page.
Carrol’s opening films on July 28, 1971 were Ben the Rat in “Willard” and Sean Connery in “The Anderson Tapes” The new-build venue featured rocking chair seats and a 1970’s friendly color scheme. Carroll’s left the cinema building in late December of 1973 and the theatre was renamed as the Plaza I & II. With the Burlington Plaza 1 & 2 still operating less than three miles away, there may have been a trace of confusion. But about one year later, Merrill Jarvis of Merrill’s Theater Circuit took over the Plaza I & II renaming it as the Century Plaza 1 & 2 in December of 1974 for more distinction in the naming.
Across the street, the University Mall was breaking ground expanding the Zayre complex on March 16, 1977 reshaping the retail landscape. The Mall launched in 1979. SBC’s competing Cinema 1 & 2 on Shelburg added a third screen in late May of 1981 becoming a triplex as twin-screeners were not cutting it as the multiplex era was opening. So Merrill closed its twin-screen Century Plaza in June briefly with the venue also re-emerging as a triplex, now the Century Plaza 3 on June 21, 1981 in time to play a big summer film in “Superman.” As a triplex, Screen 1 had 303 seats, Screen 2 had 200 seats and Screen 3 had 100 seats for a total of 603 total seats.
In February of 1994, Hoyts Theatre Circuit bought Merrill Theater Circuit including the Century Plaza. It was called Hoyt’s Century Plaza 3 with Hoyt positioning the venue as an art house. But the property was too hot for the aging triplex and Hoyt’s closed on October 12, 1995 with Patrick Stewart in “Jeffrey,” Kevin Spacey in “The Usual Suspects,” and Edward Burns in “The Brothers McMullen.” Demolition was soon commenced as a Barnes and Noble Book Sellers store was built there. It was still in operation in the 2020s.
This is the Cinema 1•2•3 on Shelburne Road.
On September 6, 1953, the Harlem Theatre became the streamline moderne Capitol Theatre for Wometco Theatres with Tony Curtis in “Houdini.” It was likely at the renewal of the theater’s 20-year lease which would place its possible opening by Wometco in 1933.
In a moment highlighting the Miami police’s decade’s long hostile track record on race relations, the police shuttered the Harlem Theater’s March 17, 1934 just prior to an integrated audience show exclusively with African American performers. Over 2,000 patrons showed up for that evening’s show and so did Miami police who said they would arrest all of the African American cast members if they presented the show with any White patrons in the audience. Wometco was outraged by the late notice cancellation and said that the Lyric Theatre had a similar show without incident in 1932 (that ad is posted under the Lyric’s Cinema Treasure page). But the circuit couldn’t find a judge to intervene at the 11th hour and the show was cancelled with refunds given.
The show was then rescheduled on March 21 and 22, 1934 with Wometco both gaining an injunction and vowing to donate proceeds to the Salvation Army. But that wasn’t enough for the City Council which threatened to pass an ordinance prohibiting any White person from attending an African American theater. Wometco buckled cancelling the March 21st show and then offering the show exclusively to African American patrons on the 22d. Mayor E.G. Sewell was pleased with Wometco’s decision saying that “you are bound to have trouble” in such a performance.
The City then proposed an ordinance prohibiting performances by African American displaying any part of their bodies other than face, neck hands or arms before White audiences and by White performers using the same language in the presence of African American audiences. That ordinance was not enacted. But the City would get the last word in plowing a highway project right down the center of the neighborhood where the Harlem / Capitol was a focal point thus dissecting the formerly-vibrant African American neighborhood out of existence.
Over 2,000 patrons showed up for the evening show and so did Miami police who said they would arrest all of the African American cast if they presented the show with any White patrons in the audience. Wometco was outraged by the late notice cancellation and said that the Lyric Theatre had a similar show without incident in 1932 (that ad is posted under the Lyric’s Cinema Treasure page).
The Bunche Park neighborhood was a post-War community designed for African American homeowners. The Bunche Park Shopping Center was announced in June of 1950 to be anchored by a movie theater and a Harlees five and dime store. Wometco’s Bunche Theatre opened in the plaza May 18, 1951 with Betty Grable in “My Blue Heaven” following a lengthy opening ceremony headlined by Mt. Zion Baptist Church’s Reverend Edward T. Graham and music by the Dorsey High School band. All proceeds from that showing was donated to playground equipment for Bunche Park.
Beatrice Eve Clark - a cashier since 1935 for Wometco - was the opening day cashier at the Bunche. She gravitated to Assistance Manager in 1952 and became its manager. Clark oversaw the transition to widescreen projection in 1955 allowing the Bunche Theatre to play CinemaScope titles. The theater stopped advertising likely closing in September of 1959 due to very low patronage. The theater was replaced by a bowling alley. If reports are correct, the entire complex was torn down in 1966. Though disappointing, demolished would be an appropriate current status.
The Northside Shopping Center mall had launched theatre-lessly on March 16, 1960. It added the Northside Theater launching on January 31, 1968 during the suburban luxury theater period in cinema exhibition that saw single-screen theaters often built in strip shopping centers and malls. Soon thereafter, this period gave way to the twin screen, triplexes and quads era providing more options to moviegoers. The Northside was twinned accordingly on October 14, 1970 becoming the Northside Twins. Likely under new operators, the “s” was dropped in the mid-1970s operating as the Northside Twin Theatres 1 & 2. It successfully carried Blaxploitation bookings during the 1970s in its halcyon days. That genre lost favor in the film industry which concentrated on blockbuster “popcorn” films. The venue struggled trying to reclaim its audience.
The Northside would finish its run under a final operator programming double-features of Hollywood mainstream titles beginning in late Fall of 1981 to its closure. The Northside Twin Theatres 1 & 2 closed September 9, 1984 with “The Executioner” with “Streets of Fire” on Screen One and “"Gremlins” with “Creepshow” on Screen Two. In December the space was retrofitted for a discotheque.
The Palace Theatre closed at the end of lease on April 6, 1967 with Tempest Storm in “Mundo Depravados” and Karen Drake in “The House of Cats” and a live burley show starring Miss Naja and here $100,000 wardrobe along with six comics and five exotics. The Palace’s Saints and Sinners Grand Finale had been staged on February 28, 1967 but that was followed by an encore month of shows thereafter. Legendary operator Dewey Michaels found a new place to move the operation to for the next ten years while the original Palace was demolished soon thereafter to make way for the Church Street Extension project that was previously known as the Elm-Oak Arterial Highway.
Note: In case anyone was curious, The Monkees never played the Palace Theatre in Buffalo and had no concert dates prior to the launch of their series in September of 1966 (their first concert was in December of 1966).
While the above two-sentence entry succinctly describes the Pheil Theatre and its 40-year history in downtown St. Petersburg - and that two sentence synopsis should be retained as is - the Pheil Theatre and Hotel Building might best be remembered for its presence symbolizing the city’s growth from single- and double-storied wood-framed downtown structures to modern skyscrapers associated with perhaps more cutting-edge cities nearby and beyond. Some details of the theater and its adjoining hotel’s history follow.
Abram C. Pheil first announced the Pheil Theatre in August of 1917. Pheil had a significant role in the growth of St Petersburg during Florida’s “land boom” in the 1910s and 1920s. Pheil was the first passenger on the first commercial flight in 1914 from St. Pete to Tampa in 1914. He also removed an island in Bayboro Harbor to ease waterway navigation. He announced his intention to build in the 400-block of Central way back in 1905. His plans continued to balloon and he acquired more lots from 410 to 424 Central. The skyscraper concept was announced in 1916 but began much more modestly with a theater to bear his name that was built beginning in 1917. The Pheil Theatre’s entry was constructed with a temporary wooden shed built to protect pedestrians on Central Avenue from falling debris. It was apparently a necessary but unsightly structure in 1917.
Work on the theater continued in 1918 as a domed structure (see photos). Brooklyn artist Josh Gutchbar worked overtime on the hand-painted 20' dome of the auditorium that was a mural of the sky with cherubs, along with its figurines representing happiness, sadness, pleasure and pain. The screen featured figurines on either side representing work and recreation. The color scheme was ivory and grey with rose drapes. And a large $12,000 pipe organ was installed comparable to the “big city” theaters yet likely not actually meeting that expectation as it was replaced by a mighty Wurlitzer 135 organ (Opus 756, 4 ranks and two manuals) just four years later during a late 1923 refresh.
The Pheil Theatre may be remembered for its small Central Avenue footprint that had a 25' lobby to its back that included a 20' dome allowed the venue to house the projector in the alley allowing people to enter and exit screen-side. The “reverse entry” concept was an innovation designed by the theater’s architect and collaborated to by the theater’s first manager. More importantly, the venue’s foundation allowed for growth as Pheil’s architect, William S. Shull, ensured that it could support a ten-story building if needed in the future. So certain were these plans, that the temporary wooden shed remained in place as the theater prepared its 1918 launch that was delayed until 1918.
The dangers of nitrate film presentation were very well known at the time of designing the building and safety was taken into consideration as the building’s materials were almost entirely wood free save some doors and some ornamental trim. This was a move certainly designed to ease the insurer’s minds. In fact, the original architect and theater manager said that in case of a fire, people would have the option of a natural egress following the “decline” slope of the auditoriums to the familiar Central Avenue front or selecting a back egress into the alley. The theater’s concrete and steel reinforced fireproof projection booth was built up over the rear exit and over the alley. A 1920 booth fire led to a slight reworking of that booth and some interior refinements to the venue.
The long-awaited Pheil Theatre opened February 20, 1919 with Dr. Minor C. Baldwin at the pipe organ and soloist Gretchen Miller as the vocalist. Then St. Pete Mayor Al Lang made the opening speech with followed by Major Lew B. Brown, Postmaster W.L. Straub and former St. Pete Mayor, City Council member now theater owner Pheil (1912-3) making remarks. The venue operated thereafter on a grind policy with continuous shows from 1-10:30p daily. Patrons long remembered coming in during the continuous showings because seated ticket holders would see everyone who entered as they came up through the screen area.
The Pheil would be guided by numerous operators including Southern Enterprises under Paramount beginning in 1920, briefly under Consolidated Theatres and the bulk of its time under E.J. Sparks Enterprises circuit beginning in 1927, and closing under Florida State Theatres when associates of the retiring Sparks took over the Circuit on July 1,1941 through November of 1959.
The theatre was also remembered for the giant Pheil Hotel that would be associated with it for decades. In 1920, Pheil obtained a permit to add the ten-story hotel on to the theatre’s Central Avenue entry along with ground floor businesses to either side. That temporary shed that had been constructed 1917 would remain in place as the hotel was built in 1920 with a targeted opening date in 1921. Or longer as it turned out.
Construction continued with major issues dogging it forcing Phiel Theatre patrons to go to the loud theater through the ugly wooden shed entry in 1920 and 1921. And then continuing in 1922 and 1923. Not ideal. An eleventh floor was then added to the building plans by a new construction company in 1922. But Pheil, who had approved that change, died on November 1, 1922 and the family - led by Bertha and Abraham Pheil - vowed to finish what would become the town’s first commercial skyscraper with a new targeted opening date in 1923.
On April 21, 1924, the Pheil Theatre – still in continuous operation and with the unfinished hotel above it - handed out what were described as “funny pairs” of red and green glasses as it presented its first ever 3D films. To those who had seen 3D stereopticon still images, the effect was a predictable advance but yet an innovative presentation. The theatre closed for the summer and received a refresh bringing improved projection and its new Wurlitzer.
Meanwhile, in the hotel project’s fourth full year of construction, a dual marquee was installed in July of 1924 - one for the hotel and one an improved attractor for the Pheil Theatre. This allowed the removal of that nearly seven-year old eyesore, the temporary wooden shed. The shed’s removal – in and of itself – was an actual news story. A large smokestack was added to the building’s roof in part functionary and in part, apparently, to stake its claim as the city’s tallest structure.
On the second anniversary of his death and some three years behind schedule, R.L. Thorn / Thorn Brothers opened the hotel bearing Abram C. Pheil’s name. The facility was known as the Pheil Theatre and Hotel Building. Hundreds of photos and post cards show the hotel and the theater’s Central Avenue entry. Yet few actually show the theater on its backside. The theatre would continue to innovate becoming only the second theater in the state of Florida to equip with sound and the first in the U.S.A. in a city with fewer than 50,000 residents relaunching on November 11, 1927 with Vitaphone sound. Opening the talkies era at the Pheil were associated shorts and the synchronized sounds of John Barrymore in “When a Man Loves.” And the audiences loudly cheered with approval setting the wheels in motion for other St. Petersburg theaters to equip for sound in 1928. The Pheil followed that up by booking the World Premiere of “Glorious Betsy” with Vitaphone on April 7, 1928.
Once better theaters had sound, the Pheil scuffled during the Depression which included summer closures and reduction to three-day a week operation. It was closed due to lack of business from June of 1929 to early 1930. The theater came back to life operating seasonally. Its 1934 lasted all summer all the way to Christmas of 1934. The Pheil’s new 20-year leasing period began in 1939 under E.J. Sparks but transferred to the renamed Florida State Theatres in 1941. The theatre’s summer closures continued through 1953. The theatre had announced a plan for air conditioning in 1949 that was finally carried out in 1954 by its final operator Florida State Theatres. Florida State also converted the venue to widescreen projection for the purpose of showing CinemaScope films in 1954.
Operating year-round, Florida State operated the venue until the end of the Pheil’s second, 20-year lease. It closed permanently on November 18, 1959 with Dick Miller in ”A Bucket of Blood” and Yvette Vickers in “Attack of the Giant Leeches.” The Cuyahoga Wrecking Company commenced demolition days later continuing into 1960 in demolishing the Pheil in favor of a new First National Bank. That project that lasted from 1960 to 1968 were the first changes for the commercial area since its World War I era construction and also a time that the Pheil would lose its distinction as the city’s tallest building.
High winds destroyed windows in November 1959 even prior to the wrecker’s work. Its entry way and attractor signage on Commerce Street was converted during a major overhaul of the Pheil Hotel property which received a new aluminum Brise Soleil screen wrapping as the building was known as the “cheese grater” for the next 45 years or - officially - as the Madison Hotel toward its new 99-year lease.
The Pheil turned Madison Hotel closed on May 31, 1973. A disposal sale offered everything in the hotel at exceedingly low prices. In that were apparently some of the figurines from the former theater’s lobby. The plan was to raze the hotel in 1973 and 1974. Its demolition was delayed just slightly as the vacant building was finally razed… in 2016. Preservationists efforts to save the structure were simply too late in coming.
For the very unlikely few who care, the Pheil Theatre entry and official address was at 412 Central in the middle of the building and not at the 424 Central address Cinema Treasures uses above. 424 was the entry and address of the Pheil Hotel whose entry was at the right-most side of the property. After the theater was demolished, the former theater entry’s address became 410 Central which - though technically incorrect - is the lowest address associated with the property at 410-424 Central at the left-most side of the property. However, the 424 Central address above is certainly more than close enough as it was within the same structure and works great for mapping purposes.
The Liberty Theatre was an African American Theatre in St. Petersburg.
Bert Schrieber announced the Rosetta Theatre in 1925 which - along with the Ruben Building across the street - was providing what was then the Little River neighborhood with a moderne nexus of retail and entertainment. Paramount Theatres opened the 1,045-seat venue with Spanish architecture primarily as a movie house but had a stage for live stage shows and vaudeville. Its large Kimball pipe organ was a huge hit as the venue opened at the tail end of the silent era. The first film on February 16, 1926 was Tom Mix and Tony, the Wonder Horse, in “The Yankee Señor” and was preceded by an organ concert.
On May 5, 1929, the venue added sound to remain viable with Pauline Frederick in “On Trial” playing on the big screen. Wometco assumed the Rosetta in time for its big fifth anniversary celebration in 1931. As the 20-year leasing period was reached, a new Rosetta was in the works. In 1946, Wometco closed the venue for a full month to give the building a shocking streamline moderne makeover to the plans of Roy A. Benjamin and Charles P. Neider. Those plans were complete with a new Flexlume neon attractor, all new box office and lobby and a new air conditioning plant in time for the August 1, 1946 relaunch with Chester Morris in “Counterfiet.” With temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s at its launch, the air conditioning would be welcomed. The new building also had a confectionery to its right and another retail operation to its left to provide improved economic benefits. It is assumed that a new 25-year lease came with the refresh.
By 1970 and in its 24th year of operation since the refresh, the theater was scuffling with Wometco repostioning it as a double-feature, ultra-discount house with all seats for 35 cents. Wometco left the venue at the expiry of its lease and a new operator tried a new approach. It moved the Rosetta to an adult movie house named the 2nd Avenue Arts Theatre beginning on February 17, 1971 with Lindis Guinness in “101 Acts of Love” and “The Proficient Professor.” Controversy hounded that change. On January 3, 1973, the venue was briefly taken on by the Southland Cinemas circuit as the New King Cinema / King Cinema returning the venue to double feature Hollywood fare. Success was not to be found for Southland.
It was subleased to Waldrick Theatre Corp. Circuit who renamed it the King Art Cinema. “Art” was in the eye of the beholder. On September 7, 1973, the King Art booked “The Devil in Miss Jones.” On September 10, 1973, the film was confiscated with manager Ceasr Alonso booked on an obscenity charge. The King Art Cinema became the subject of a high-profile litmus test for the Miller v. California standard that the Supreme Court had promulgated on June 21, 1973. That ruling said that, using contemporary community standards, obscene films and other content did not have First Amendment protection.
Though many municipalities had used the Miller standard to impound films in the weeks following the landmark decision, most of those situations did not reach a jury as quickly as the the King Art Cinema case. The case was teed up, launched and decided within weeks of the film being impounded. A jury had viewed the film and was deadlocked on the matter leading to a mistrial and the venue and its manager was off the hook all within the month of September 1973.
But the State did not rest and pushed the case further. That civil case is considered perhaps the first known application of Miller v. California. And those sensing the end of “smut” were sadly let down. The second case was decided on December 14, 1973 and the presiding judge spiked the prosecution’s case by saying, the State wanted the court to “miraculously” interpret Miller in such a way that was not “the role of the courts” in exonerating the film, the exhibitor (Waldrick Corp.) and its manager (Alonso). Similar cases within months in Florida’s Orange and Osceola counties went the same way. Threats by the State to appeal the verdict(s) remained just that as that as they appeared to have no grounds to potentially overturn these early decisions on appeal.
To spike the football, “Devil” had an uber successful 6-month run at the King Art Cinema. The venue was renamed as the Rex Art Cinema on April 19, 1974 likely under new ownership. Though the venue was never known as the King Art Theatre, it was known both as the King Cinema (showing Hollywood fare) and the King Art Cinema (showing adult content). And it should be labeled as either the Rosetta Theatre - its name for some 45 years (1926-1971) or the Rex Art Cinema (final four years) as it was never the Rex Art Theatre. It’s believed though not confirmed that the cinema may have closed in 1977 when its license was pulled along with the 79th Street Twin I & II under a new battle waged by Dade County against obscene content. Also, the theatre was at 7929 NE 2nd Avenue across the street. It has long since been demolished and one might say that the Devil made them do it.
The Center Theatre lists all the way to March 28, 1974 with its last showtimes of Henry Yu Yung in “Fists of Double K (Fist to Fist)” and Wang You in “Blood of the Dragon.” (The theater’s final transition had been from adult cinema earlier in the 1970s to Chopsocky films.) The theatre reached the expiration of its lease but is then listed for sale thereafter for $89,500 with the caveat of “needs work.”
This venue closed as the Parkway Twin 1 & 2 Theatres on October 17, 1985 following showings of “Rocky III” and “Sorceress” splitting a screen with “Alone in the Dark.” For those who came the next night for a film, they got the latter minus the movie.
The Colonial Theatre closed as, by many accounts, a scary 24-hour grindhouse on February 27, 1975 at the end of a leasing period with a continuous quadruple-feature of Karl Malden in “The Summertime Killer,” Strother Martin in “Sssssss (Snake),” John Wayne in “Rio Lobo,” and a fourth film.
Opened in 1914 likely on a 20-year lease and re-upping once more from 1934-1954
Following its purchase in 2015 by AMC, the venue became the AMC Starplex Mesquite 10. After acquiring the Carmike chain late in 2016, the AMC circuit rebranded many of its inherited brands as AMC CLASSIC locations in March of 2017. A refresh brought a sometimes open MacGuffins bar and upgrades including Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensing units. The venue continued as a discount sub-run house. This location was the AMC Classic Mesquite 10 from that point forward.
AMC closed after showtimes on March 16, 2020 here and at all of its locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In August of 2020, AMC made the closure permanent becoming one of many theatres closed during the pandemic. It officially closed as the AMC Classic Mesquite 10 and its “forever” posters remained in the exterior poster frames for more than two years. However, in 2022, the building was retrofitted as a retail furniture store.
Final showtimes were January 11, 1963 “The Humanoids” and “Magic Voyage of Sinbad.”
In 2016, AMC purchased the Carmike circuit. In 2017, the Dupont would receive AMC’s CLASSIC tag that was generally given to inherited locations and those locations that would be less likely to receive a major refresh and/or expanded options under the banner, the AMC CLASSIC Fort Wayne 20. AMC closed here temporarily with the rest of the AMC locations on March 16, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It reopened on August 27, 2020. AMC announced the permanent closure of the AMC CLASSIC Fort Wayne 20 following showtimes on July 31, 2022.
The theatre had a great 50-year run until closing after October 2, 2022 showtimes.
Oakwood Mall opened October 15, 1986 with the Carmike six-plex as an original attraction though launching on November 21, 1986. The Mall was overhauled in 1996 and Carmike would expand here to twelve screens on November 5, 1997 as the multiplex era had morphed into the megaplex era. In 2005, Carmike refreshed the megaplex with stadium seating.
In 2016, AMC purchased the Carmike circuit. The Oakwood would receive AMC’s CLASSIC tag that was generally given to inherited locations and those locations that would be less likely to receive a major refresh and/or expanded options. The Oakwood Mall would shed three anchors in 2017/8 in Macy’s, Younkers, and Sears. The AMC Classic Oakwood closed temporarily with the rest of the AMC locations on March 16, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It reopened on September 3, 2020. AMC announced the permanent closure of the AMC CLASSIC Oakwood 12 following showtimes on October 2, 2022.
From the Dipson Theatres Facebook feed announcing its closure
Add the Sun Sun Theatre to the also known as. That name change occurred on July 25, 1975 as the Sun Sun showed chopsocky films. The venue was then added by the operators of the Star Mall Twin and the Miller Road 93 as the Sun-Sun Cinema later in the year. The Sun-Sun sunsunset on July 29, 1976 at the expiry of a year over year sublease with David Chiang in “The Tong Father,” SuperChan - Kung Fu King in “Forced to Fight,” and Michael Wai-Man Chan in “Chinese Mack.” They didn’t go half way at the Sun-Sun.
The venerable Lyric Theatre closed permanently following the December 11, 1971 showing of Alan Alda in “Paper Lion.” The new Viking Theatre opened the next day, December 12, 1971, with “West Side Story.” It became the Viking 1 & 2 and then the Viking 3 in 1993.
Ellen Larsen opened the Lyric Theatre on September 7, 1914 in the Mrs. Iver Larsen building in downtown Decorah. Bathed in ivory and olive, the venue sold out its first motion picture show. The theatre added sound to remain viable. In the 1960s, it rotated bookings seasonally with the local drive-in. The Lyric closed permanently following the December 11, 1971 showing of Alan Alda in “Paper Lion.” The new Viking Theatre opened the next day with “West Side Story.”