Carefree Theatre

2000 S. Dixie Highway,
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

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Harvey on January 13, 2021 at 5:01 pm

Pics from Abandoned Florida:

Carefree Theater

DavidZornig on August 27, 2017 at 7:17 pm

Photo added of the game room at the Carefree Theatre, year unknown.
Photo credit Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

DavidZornig on April 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

Apparently the new plans are on hold.

DavidZornig on April 6, 2017 at 12:57 am

The Carefree Theater was demolished in September 2016. Some demolition photos added.

Article below about demolition.

Mr_Film on January 20, 2012 at 4:40 pm

The Carefree Theatre was an addition to the Carefree Center.

It all started in 1936. The building front on Dixie housed a soda fountain/cafe with billiards. Across the hall was a 10-lane bowling alley (later to become the Comedy Corner). The alley opened with “pin boys” who manually set the pins and rolled balls back to players. Automatic pin setters were later installed, at a cost of $50,000 a piece! In the early 60’s, part of the billiards room had pink carpet, attracting many women to the sport. When air conditioning was later added to the billiard room and bowling alley, people actually complained.

The theatre began construction in 1946 and opened in 1947 with “The Egg and I” (Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert). It originally had 800 seats but the two front rows were later remove to add a thrust stage in front of the curved screen, reducing the seat count to 772. The screen measured 16 x 42 with a focal distance of 150 feet. A glass-front “crying room” (for parents with babies) was upstairs next to the booth. Alone the north wall, retail space was along the street (a barber business existed for years) and a suite of offices and dressing rooms located upstairs. The theatre was cooled by a 1946 60-ton York reed-valve compressor. Although very inefficient by today’s standards, it was capable of keeping a full auditorium at 72 degrees on a steamy summer afternoon.

The Carefree usually beat out the competition in Palm Beach with premiere showings of films. The theatre was so successful at the beginning that film companies would not believe the ticket grosses. In the late 40’s/early 50’s, it was claimed that 1 in 10 people in Palm Beach County visited the Carefree Center every seven days. In 1950, outdoor roller skating was tried on the roof of the theatre but only lasted one season.

When Fantasma took over the center, many conversions took place. The Comedy Corner was established in the area of the old bowling alley (carpet was placed over the alleys) along with a retail art gallery. At the time, it was the largest single screen theatre in the state of Florida. And in case you’re wondering, “Larry the Cable Guy” (Dan Whitney) got his start at the Comedy Corner as the warmup act/door person. Along the front of the building, a bistro and sports bar were added. The theatre got some updating with projection equipment (Century head with zenon lamphouse – converted to platter system at this time) and Dolby sound. The screen was later replaced with a silvered screen for 3-D. It was the only house in Florida with the aperture plates and lenses for the four major aspect ratios of motion picture film (1.33, 1.66. 1.85, 2.35). Fantasma began offering sub-run movies, live concerts on stage, and becoming the home of Rocky Horror Picture for South Florida (every Saturday night at midnight – third longest running program in the US). Films were later changed to first-run foreign and art in 1990, becoming the most successful art house in America. Concerts were primarily jazz and reggae but included live comedy (Sam Kinison) and jazz-pop (Basia). Harry Connick, Jr. and Melissa Etheridge performed on the Carefree stage just prior to “making it big”. BB King would always play two performances once a year to sold out crowds. Due to the size of the Carefree, it was the perfect place for an intimate concert. Several world premieres were held at the theatre, most notably the infamous film “Scooter in Palm Beach” (don’t go looking for it – it was so bad it was either retitled or completely removed from the history books). The theatre also played host to the Palm Beach Film Festival and the South Florida Jewish Film Festival every year.

Unfortunately, damage caused by the hurricanes of 2004 forced the closure of what was the jewel of the entertainment business in Palm Beach County.

rivest266 on November 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Grand opening ad from November 19th, 1948 has been posted in the photo section for this cinema.

Vil on February 18, 2011 at 12:06 am

My name is Vil. I once had the honour, for a short time, in 1998, of being in the Rocky Horror Picture Show cast that was at the Carefree theatre. This started in approximately February of that year. I truly regret the loss of that theatre and have very fond memories of the times that I had there with Ron Lee, Kate Humble, Justin Blaine, and others.

sporridge on December 31, 2010 at 4:33 am

Five years after closing, the Carefree building is available for lease — and a coming attractions poster for “Capote” remains, slowly fading in its frame. Those who would dare take it over may be looking at more than a million dollars' worth of upgrades to code.

TLSLOEWS on September 8, 2010 at 3:08 am

And its still a great name!

sporridge on February 14, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Some good news about some past Palm Beach Post Carefree articles:

View link

Currently available for free, as long as it’s under their “Historic Archives.”

sporridge on February 3, 2010 at 12:14 am

By the late 1960s, General Cinema managed the Carefree, and GCC’s distinctive “Refreshments” signage could still be seen at the snack bar decades later. Much of the 1970s and early 1980s saw the Carefree become a second-run bargain house. Local longtime concert promoter Fantasma Productions was approached to bring stage shows to the venue by the late 80s; they purchased it outright, and enlivened the Carefree for nearly 20 years with art cinema and touring musicians. One of the former game rooms outside the theater space became a popular comedy club, featuring regular appearances by the likes of the late, great Bill Hicks.

In the months before the roof collapse alone, I trekked to the Carefree for rare local appearances by Richard Thompson and Emmylou Harris, along with frequent Carefree favorite Henry Rollins on spoken word duty. A few weeks prior to the roof collapse, my last visit was for The Blind Boys of Alabama.

The Carefree’s short-lived follow-up, a former church converted for movies and live performances, was The Theatre:


Sadly, The Theatre and Fantasma Productions both fell silent after founder Jon Stoll lost his life to a brain tumor in 2008. He was among the last of the independent concert promoters, and South Florida’s music scene still feels the loss.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 6, 2010 at 1:04 pm

A photo of the Carefree Theatre as it originally looked can be seen in Boxoffice, July 29, 1950. The name on the marquee is a bit ambiguous. It might have been the Carefree Theatre or the Carefree Center Theatre.

The building housed several entertainment and convenience facilities, as described in the Boxoffice article, and the operation as a whole was apparently called the Carefree Center. The article calls the theater itself just the Carefree Theatre, though.

Both of the Palm Beach Post articles linked above have vanished. I hope the Boxoffice link works longer.

Harvey on April 11, 2009 at 2:18 pm

1981 photo of the Carefree here.

dewotr on July 20, 2007 at 10:46 pm

They had concerts there in later years, too. I really loved that theater. I haven’t been in it in at least 10-12 years after I moved away from the area.

BTW, that article from May 2007 linked above doesn’t appear to be working at the PB Post site anymore. Maybe I can find it in the archives.

JackCoursey on June 13, 2007 at 1:11 am

Here are two photos of the Carefree from June 2007: 1, 2

JackCoursey on June 6, 2007 at 3:04 am

The Carefree was originally known as the Center Theatre.