You may not know much about the charming Florida Theatre in downtown Jacksonville, but there are many attributes that make it quite unique among the array of theaters, event spaces and entertainment venues in the city.
Opening in April 1927, the Florida Theatre was privately owned for nearly 54 years, until the Arts Assembly of Jacksonville purchased and renovated the facility in 1980. When renovations were complete in October 1983, the theatre was re-opened as a nonprofit performing arts center.
In speaking with the Florida Theatre’s President, Mr. Numa Saisselin, he elaborated on the unique qualities and charm of the event space.
“‘It’s a palace of dreams.’ That’s not my quote, unfortunately,” Saisselin says. “That’s what the newspaper said when it opened in 1927, but it’s a great quote. The Florida Theatre is what you think of when you think of an old school historic theatre. Anyone can put bleachers in a parking lot and host a concert, but this is a real theatre, and there’s no place quite like it to see a show.”
The Florida Theatre is the only remaining theater, among five that were all located within a four-block stretch on Forsyth Street in 1927. Within the state, the Florida Theatre is one of three grand movie palaces still standing.
“At full capacity, with the orchestra pit seated, we have 1,902 seats,” Saisselin says. “We just put new seats in last year and we lost about 75 seats, because the new seats are wider and have more leg room, with twice as many wheelchair accessible locations. But the new seats still look like historically appropriate seats. It’s a nice effect.”
So, how has this palace of dreams endured for so long? And specifically, how has its programming enabled it to evolve and thrive? Saisselin believes one of the secrets is the Theatre’s commitment to reputation for showcasing premier talent.
“In a typical year we have about 175 performances, so on average, we are open every other night, all year long” Saisselin says. “According to two trade magazines, the Florida Theatre is one of the Top 5 most attended theatres in the country with up to 2,000 seats. It’s a reliable tour stop for performing artists, which is why we are able to book great performers like Dave Chappelle, John Legend and hundreds of other terrific performers.”
“Because we do so many different types of things, from comedy to classic rock to jazz to ballet to modern dance to world music, and 100 other genres of live entertainment, we see many different types of audiences. It’s the thing I love the most about working here. We see a cross section of the entire city in a way that few other people or institutions do.”
With a diverse lineup of performances tailored to appeal to many entertainment tastes, it’s easy to see why it’s such a beloved space. The theater’s location is complemented by a variety of nearby restaurants including Cowford Chophouse, Dos Gators, Underbelly and Spliffs Gastropub. The area is also a hotspot for both dining and entertainment, with many other entertainment venues are closeby.
And there are several upcoming events to pencil into your calendar.
“We have about 100 shows on sale right now,” Saisselin says. “Tom Segura is, without question, the most popular right now, because he has already sold out two shows. But there are also other great acts coming.Tickets are moving. Everyone is ready to get back to business.”
Notable performers taking the stage soon include: Meat Loaf and American Idol Winner, Caleb Johnson on August 20; One Night of Queen on August 23; Gary Allan on August 27; Sawyer Brown on September 9; and Whitney Cummings on September 10.
The Florida Theatre also holds an annual event called “Blues, Brews, & BBQ.” which they say is downtown’s best indoor picnic. They offer samples of Jacksonville’s favorite craft beer and live, continuous Blues music while you eat. This year, Barbecue vendors will include the Butt Hutt, Bono’s and more.
And since its opening, the Florida Theatre, in addition to great live performances, has also featured movie showings. The Theatre hosts various film festivals during the course of the year. And the Theatre’s own Summer Movie Classics series features a series of old and new classics, mostly on Sunday afternoons, like the “Clueless” Summer Movie Classic event on August 22.
Please note the Florida Theatre does not have its own parking lot. Street parking is free after 6:00 p.m. on the weekdays and free all weekend. So if you are looking to have a great night with your friends, consider carpooling and securing a good street spot.