With our upcoming performances of Carmen happening during our historic theatre tour, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to write about the amazing history of these theatres!
These theatres have been a part of Florida’s history since the 1920s and are still operating stronger than ever! Let's keep history and culture alive and dive into what these three historic theaters have to offer!
1) Wayne Densch originally opened in Sanford, July 1923 under the name of the Milane Theatre. The Milane Theatre was built from a failed abandoned movie house known as the Star Theatre and was named after an amusement company called Milane Amusement run by Frank L. Miller and Edward F. Lane. The theatre was then sold in 1933 to Frank and Stella Evans and renamed to the Ritz Theatre in 1936. As more complex theatres began to be built in the area the theatre was closed in 1978 was held by the Evans family until the 1990s. In 1984, it reopened as Showtime Cantina, a movie house, and then was closed and rehabilitated in 1998 reopening in 2000 as the Helen Stairs Theatre, in honor of Helen Stairs who started the rehabilitation process! The newly restored theatre was recognized on May 6th, 2000 in the Congressional Records of the USA, and listed in the National Register of Historic places! In 2008, enough funds were raised and the theatre transformed into the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, recognizing the contributors of the Wayne Densch Charitable Trust! From 2014 to present this theatre has now been majorly upgraded and is loved and treasured by the patrons in Sanford! We cannot wait to bring the culture of ballet and opera to this national historic landmark!
2) The Polk Theatre located in the heart of Downtown Lakeland was built in 1928 during the golden age of the United States. John E. Melton, a businessman of Lakeland.
“The mezzanine lobby, accessible by ornately tiled staircases, featured twisted columns, delicate cornice and molding work, and brass banded terrazzo floors."
"All of this splendor sat under the watchful eye of a starry ceiling. Painted a deep, royal blue, it fascinated patrons with its twinkling stars and sunrise/sunset effect. Because this simulated a natural setting, it was called an “atmospheric” theatre.”
The theatre was built with some of the most impressive technology of its time as well featuring a 100-ton air wash system to chill the air and the Vitaphone reel film system! The theatre served as a town center for community interaction for films and movies. On Dec 22nd, 1928 the theatre sold all 2,200 tickets available for one of their matinee showings and then later started adding live events including performances from famous notables including, Elvis Presley, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey. The theatre still runs strong and brings a sense of euphoria and history to its patrons. With 1400 seats and classic red and gold chairs, this theatre is sure to be a favorite for our historic theatre tour!
3)Historic Athens Theatre
And our last theatre on the list for today is the Historic Athens Theatre. It is a classic American Theatre located in Deland. Featuring a jewel of Italian Renaissance architecture. Designed by Orlando architect Mussy S. King in 1921. Opening on January 6th, 1922, the theatre had movies and live performances! The DeLand Daily News declared on January 5th, 1922 “Florida’s Handsomest Theatre” and “a gem of architecture!” Henry Deland saw this theatre as the “Athens of Florida” and this is how the theatre got its name! It was even recounted by Deland historian Bill Dreggors that during the Depression “the Athens Theatre was the only entertainment people could afford” From 1950 - 1990 the theatre was held as different entertainment venues. From movie houses to prom parties, dinner theater, video game rooms, this place was beloved by Deland's patrons for decades! The building closed down in the early 90s and was rebuilt in 1993 becoming an even larger part of Deland's heritage! The Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation Matching Grant, Mainstreet purchased the Athens Theatre for the people of the Deland. By 2004 to today the Sands Theatre Center took over and restored the historic vaudeville theatre to its original splendor! By Jan 6th, 2009 they celebrated their 87th B-Day and reopened the downtown Deland patrons!
A beloved theatre to all who walked through its doors, we can't wait to have our first performance here!
We hope you enjoyed a piece of history with us, and please take a look at these fantastic websites for more of the history and culture of these wonderful theatres!
Limited Tickets are available for all shows and we can't wait to bring history and culture alive in all of these wonderful cities through the power of Ballet and Opera!