Last December I received a call from Florida. Would I like to take a look at a historic movie theatre and see if it could be brought back to life? I live in the northern US state of Maine and didn’t need too much encouragement to book a flight to Jacksonville where Spanish moss droops from Live Oaks, it was a balmy 70 degrees, and southern hospitality lives up to its advance billing.
The Five Points Theatre was built in 1927 and is the oldest movie theatre in Jacksonville. By the time you read this it will be the newest as the theatre opens October 10th. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The theatre had the well known trajectory from stellar opening nights centered in the spotlight of civic excitement and adoration. The theatre was one of the premier theatres in Jacksonville for decades and sold out shows packed the sidewalks in the 5 Points commercial area.
Time passed and the stars faded. The age of the multiplex, the interstate highways, and easy travel left the theatre with dwindling attendance. Eventually it became Club 5, a live music venue for rock and hip hop with go-go dancers in cages where the organ had once purred. The building neglected and suffering its inevitable end seemed in sight until Mike Shad stepped in and bought it with the assistance of his sons Jack and Bill. The theatre was about to be reborn.
The theatre entrance is through a four story office building with retail commercial spaces. A long lobby entrance extends and welcomes you up an elegant staircase. Today the 5 Points area is a mixed and evolving area. Tattoo and coffee shops, a myriad of bars and restaurants, vintage clothing, antiques, shoes and clothing, bicycle, beads, and hip shoppes crowd the district that bustles with passing auto and lively foot traffic.
My job was to look at the theatre and estimate what it could do and I headed straight in under the restored marquee bristling with flashing lights. The theatre is large, much larger than most of the largest theatres in any multiplexes. It has a size more associated with live theatre. The sloping floors had been removed and replaced with terraced platforms. The theatre had been renovated to serve as an event center hosting concerts, dances, theatre, parties, weddings, and corporate events. Now it was ready to take a step back in time when movies flickered on the screen. The vision was to restore the movies, add food, wine and beer, with comfortable table seating.
The theatre itself was in fine condition. It needed some cosmetics and most of the equipment that would make it a movie theatre but compared to some of the wrecks I have looked at it was ready for prime time.
Jacksonville is the 8th largest city in the USA. Bigger than Boston, Denver, Miami, San Francisco and other cites with more well known names. But the place extends miles in all directions making up in square miles what it lacks in density. The city has a smallish number of national plexes and one other single screen independent; The San Marco. Could it support a new single screen?
My first advice to anyone thinking of starting a new theatre is that no matter how many screens you have you will want more. A one screen begs for more and is the toughest of challenges. It had better have a crystal vision, a dynamic location, and a plan for success.
The 5 Points has it all. A fantastic location surrounded by restaurants, a sharpened plan, and a facility that will be able to expand and adjust as the films unwind.
My recommendation was that it could do the business. I said “Whatever you do please don’t call me to help fire this up in the middle of an August in Florida.” Guess when my phone rang? The first day it was 103 and time started moving quickly as we worked busily to plan out the speedy transition to showing movies.
Planning would include providing for comfortable movable seats, tables, new screen, masking, curtains moving, 35mm projection, a very lovely video projector, Dolby 5.1 surround sound, a complete new concession stand, walk in cooler, beer and wine, food service, ice machine, a new wall to create a rear lobby, restoring poster cases, hiring a staff, planning marketing, and every major and minor detail of getting a theatre up and running that many of us know so well.
The pace was fast. The Mike Shad Company had a simple schedule; they wanted to be open as soon as possible. We hit the floor running.
A flurry ensued as vendors, manufacturers, techs, installers, suppliers, and products were contacted and compared, requests for proposals generated, false leads followed, directions and styles decided and debated, new walls resisted and then embraced. Fabrics and chairs inspected, digital projection debated and finally rejected, popcorn machines and ticketing systems faced off, lighting and aisles, air conditioning and handicapped bathrooms, who delivers the films, and setting up the master agreements with the film distributors.
We’re coming down to the wire as I write. The theatre has been actively rising up for 66 days and will reopen to the public 70 days after the owner said “let’s do it.” Anyone who has done this knows how much goes into it, how much planning and discussions. 10 weeks from a standing start to transform a theatre space into a movie theatre is fast.
On October 10th there will be a slow rolling start without fanfare. We’ll show a double bill of Ghost Town and Batman to an audience starved for the large screen and an ice cold beverage. Bringing back the 5 Points Theatre is a point of great pride to the Shad family. They have lead with their hearts and their love of Jacksonville and this historic treasure cinematic resurrection is living proof positive of seasoned vision and a determined execution.
In a time when we often hear that a classic theatre has closed it’s been exhilarating to play a small part and help bring back the 5 Points Theatre. When the first film rolls I’ll be standing in the back applauding. It’s great to have her back showing movies in Jacksonville.