Commuter Rail Before SunRail

Orlando Street Railway Company - Street Railway down Church Street toward Orange Avenue.  Brick building in the back ground was Bumby Hardware (Now Hamburger Mary’s).

Orlando Street Railway Company – Street Railway down Church Street toward Orange Avenue. Brick building in the back ground was Bumby Hardware (Now Hamburger Mary’s).

Commuter Rail Before SunRail

SunRail will arrive in Central Florida before long.  With high-tech and environmentally friendly trains, commuter rail will seem like a new transportation solution for Orlando.   But, it won’t be the first time residents have travelled locally on tracks.  We’ve done this before many years ago and for very different reasons.
Our first attempts at what could be called commuter rail was about 125 years ago at a time when the automobile was just being invented.
Orlando Street Railway Company
Orlando started to grow once the railroad was completed in 1880.  Citrus was developing as an industry and now had a way to ship in quantity outside of the area.  Six years after the railroad, the Orlando Street Railway Company was established for residents to have way to move around town.  Tracks were laid down Church Street from the train depot to and along Orange Avenue.   A trolley pulled by two mules carried Orlandoans up to Lake Ivanhoe.
Service on the railway was haphazard.  The conductor, Ernest Mills, for the single trolley followed a schedule perhaps unknown to his passengers.  Historian Eve Bacon wrote that Ernest gave his friends free rides and would often stop at the end of line on Marks Street for a game of marbles.  These unplanned stops caused service delays.  Sometimes they would catch snakes in the woods, tie the live snakes to the back of the trolly, and drag them back to West Church Street to sell to the local taxidermist.  Orlando life was a bit more rustic in the 1880s.
In 1893, the unreliable service led to the city to revoke the Orlando Street Railway Company’s franchise, and later ordered the tracks removed.
Dinky Station -  Winter Park train station for the Dinky Line located on Lake Virginia in late 1800’s.

Dinky Station – Winter Park train station for the Dinky Line located on Lake Virginia in late 1800’s.

Dinky Line

A few years after the mule powered street railway, another commuter rail began.  This one proved to have longevity.  In 1889, the Orlando and Winter Park Railroad started running from downtown Orlando winding by Lake Highland and Lake Formosa up to Rollins College.  Now part of Rollins’ heritage, it was nicknamed the “Dinky Line” by students that for 15 cents commuted between Orlando and the Winter Park campus.
Traveling at speeds of 6 1/2 miles per hour, the train easily derailed because the tracks were laid on sand.  Much of the route between Orlando and Winter Park was wooded and undeveloped.  If service was not interrupted by derailment, stray cattle blocked the tracks and delayed service until the conductor stopped to shoo the cows away.
In addition to passengers, the Dinky Line carried freight especially later when automobiles became the norm.  The line ran for over 70 years.  By the 1960s, the wooded areas along Lake Highland and Lake Estelle had become prime real estate lined with upscale homes.   Its last route ran in 1967 and the tracks were removed a year later.
Today, we have reminders of the Dinky Line with portions of the route making up the Orlando Urban Trail.  In Winter Park, the train station once stood on Lake Virginia at Dinky Dock Park.
This post originally appeared in Bungalower.

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10 Historic Places in Orlando to Get a Drink (Part 1)

Many of the remaining historic buildings in Downtown Orlando have been repurposed into bars and restaurants.   This is the first half of a list of 10 bars, restaurants, or lounges where you can enjoy a drink and connect to Orlando’s past.

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Looking into to Hanson’s Shoe Repair from its outdoor patio

10. Hanson’s Shoe Repair – (Yelp) (Historic location of Hansen’s Shoe Repair Shop)

Call ahead for a password before visiting.  The theme of this speakeasy is rooted in true-life Orlando history.  Andrew Hansen moved to Orlando from Pittsburgh in 1890 and opened Hansen Shoe Repair Shop at 27 East Pine Street.  This address is now one of the oldest brick buildings in Orlando and Hansen’s was the first business to have an electric sign.

Today Hanson’s Shoe Repair (note Hanson is spelled with an ‘o’ now) serves up hand-crafted cocktails at the same address Andrew Hansen set up shop 124 years ago.

Empire Hotel with electric elevators

Empire Hotel with electric elevators. Ember is at ground level on the west side of the building.



9. Ember – (Yelp) (Historic location of Empire Hotel)

Ember is located in what was one the Empire Hotel.  Built in 1913 by businessman, James MacGruder, it was advertised as, “Orlando’s Most Popular Medium Priced Hotel” and boasted an electric elevator.  The amenities in its 100 rooms included baths with hot and cold water in each room.

Around the 1930’s, the ground level space, now occupied by Ember, housed an auto parts store, Pete the Tailors shop, and a sandwich stand called Bob’s Place.  Next door the Mandarin Club stood where Ember’s Mediterranean style open air patio is today.

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Underground in the Stardust Lounge



8. Stardust Lounge – (Yelp) (Historic location of Cherry Plaza Hotel)

The Stardust Lounge sits underground below Post Parkside Apartments.  It has a unique hip 60’s Vegas theme in this low ceiling basement bar.  The significance of this spot occurred upstairs about 50 years prior.  The apartment complex was once the Cherry Plaza Hotel, and the scene of presidential visits from LBJ and Walt Disney’s only public appearance in Orlando.   (Orlando Retro story)


7. Hamburger Mary’s – (Yelp) (Historic location of Bumby Hardware)

Joseph Bumby was one of Orlando’s pioneers having moved here from England in 1873.  After arriving he farmed his 160 acres of orange groves east of downtown, carried mail by horseback from Sanford, and built a warehouse on Church Street.  The warehouse sold fertilizer and hay and was the first place to buy train tickets before the railroad depot was built.

Bumby Hardware was operated by the Bumby family for about 80 years.

Bumby Hardware was operated by the Bumby family for about 80 years.

In 1886, Mr. Bumby completed his two-story brick hardware store across the street from his warehouse.  The business was an institution in this town with its slogan, “If you can’t find it — go to Bumby’s”.  The Bumby family ran the store at this location until it closed in 1966.

Mr. Bumby’s store today is home of Hamburger Mary’s.  Today you can enjoy a cabaret show or play drag queen bingo in the same storefront where 120 years ago one would have purchased supplies to mend a fence.


6. Harry Buffalo – (Yelp) (Historic location of Slemon Dry Goods and later Rosie O’Grady’s Goodtime Emporium)

The burger and sport bar chain, Harry Buffalo, opened their Orlando location in a spot one could argue has had a couple of previous lives.   In 1924, businessman William Slemon moved his dry goods store into this new brick building.  Here he sold overalls, mens pants, towels, and table linens.   A hotel operated on the upper floors.  After Slemon’s closed, Goodwill’s first Central Florida location operated here in the 1960’s.

Rosie O'Grady's Good Time Emporium started the 70's and 80's success of Church Street Station.

Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium started the 70’s and 80’s success of Church Street Station.

It gained new life in 1974 when Bob Snow opened Rosie O’Grady’s Goodtime Emporium.  It was the cornerstone for Church Street Station, an entertainment complex that became one of Florida’s top tourist attraction through the 70’s and 80’s.

Check back for part two of the 10 Historic Places in Orlando to Get a Drink list.

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Retro Links

Sperry-1

Sperry Fountain at Lake Eola is 100 years old this year.

A few recent links about Orlando history:

  • Joy Wallace Dickinson looked back 100 years ago to 1914 Orlando in a recent Orlando Sentinel (and included a mention of Orlando Retro Blog).  The  Sperry Fountain (the first fountain at Lake Eola) made it’s debut in 1913.
  • If you haven’t found it, Joy has an enjoyable new blog for anyone with a love for Florida:  Finding Joy in Florida.
  • It’s only a matter of months before the Round Building is only a memory.  Fortunately, the bris de soleil or portions of it will be saved for a future display.  (Story: Orlando Sentinel) (Orlando Retro Post)
  • Rick Kilby wrote a great post, “Salvaging the Sunshine State,” on his Visual Ephemera.  Many of Florida’s grand resorts from the early 1900’s are gone.  Are we better off with Disney’s Grand Floridian Beach Resort in their place?

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Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center under construction behind the Round Building.

Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center under construction behind the Round Building.

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The Colorful Tale of the Carolina Moon Trailer Camp

Remnants of the Carolina Moon Trailer Park sit along Orange Blossom Trail, a stretch of road that was once a travel destination in itself.

Remnants of the Carolina Moon Trailer Park sit along Orange Blossom Trail, a stretch of road that was once a travel destination in itself.

For over 80 years, the Carolina Moon Trailer Camp was located on a plot of land between Orange Blossom Trail and Rock Lake.  It has seen life as an early Central Florida tourist attraction, a residential trailer park, and a lakeside timeshare resort.  It had such a colorful history it was even the subject of a comedy theatrical production.

Orange groves were south of Rock Lake in the late 1800’s.  Postcards as early as 1906 featured a scenic palm tree-lined lakeshore.  As Orlando developed, Kentucky Avenue soon ran adjacent to the eastern shore, where in 1935 a man named Jonathan Moon purchased 10 acres on Rock Lake.  Kentucky Avenue would later be called Orange Blossom Trail, a more descriptive and appealing name to Central Florida travelers.

Aerial View of the Carolina Moon property

Aerial View of the Carolina Moon property

On his new property Mr. Moon opened Moon’s Tourist Camp making it one of a couple of tourist camps in the area.  People visited to enjoy the Central Florida sun along the beaches of the inland freshwater lake.  Entertainment during the early days of the Carolina Moon included a dance hall and roller skating.

While the tourist camps may have been popular with visitors, residents of the nearby Spring Lake Terrace neighborhood were not as welcoming.   In 1937, over 50 home owners from one of Orlando’s early prominent neighborhoods fought city hall to rid the area of the camps.  Likely in response, the city ordered the trailer camps to close or relocate.   Mr. Moon was alleged to have opened his camp without proper permits and this lead to a lengthy legal battle.  However, the trailer camp survived and remained with Moon as owner until 1945.

For the decades to come, a neon sign along Orange Blossom Trail identified the property as the “Carolina Moon Cottages.”   In 1963 when motor lodges were still a draw, the Parliament House chain built a large hotel next door.  The Carolina Moon was left to age beside a new modern facility.

An advertisement in late 1936 in the Rollins College paper "Sandspur" invited students to the Carolina Moon for roller skating.

An advertisement in late 1936 in the Rollins College paper “Sandspur” invited students to the Carolina Moon for roller skating.

However, only a few years later Walt Disney made his famous announcement (Retro Link: Walt’s Announcement) and tourists’ interest quickly shifted away from scenic Rock Lake.

By 1975, Parliament House was in decline and no longer part of a national chain.  That year it reinvented itself as gay hotel and entertainment complex.  With virtually nothing else like it in the country it brought new traffic and flavor to the area.

By this time, the Carolina Moon Trailer Park was residential.   Full Moon Saloon later opened on the northern side of the Carolina Moon.  Residents made up a cast of characters that didn’t mind the traffic of late-night bar hoppers making their way across the property.

The 80s and 90s were slightly seedier years for the Carolina Moon, the rooms of the original motel hosted a variety of tenants and merchants.  Shops like Twisted Palms sold leather wear and specialty clothing while other stores offered everything from adult video rentals to gay-themed tchotchkes.  In 1990 Boca Raton News told the story of a makeshift clinic operating in one of the rooms.  During the peak of the AIDS crisis, this rogue clinic provided experimental therapies for the disease.

The Gardens timeshare resort today

The Gardens timeshare resort today

In the 2000’s, new owners of the Parliament House removed the trailer homes to develop the property into a gay timeshare resort, The Gardens.   This unlikely end to the Carolina Moon’s story was the basis for local playwright Michael Wanzie’s, “Carolina Moon: A Campy Trailer Trash Tragedy.”  His comedy production told the story of the displaced “eclectic mix of residents at Carolina Moon, ranging from old-time southern crackers and Tupperware ladies to leather daddies and disco twinks.

Only one of several planned buildings were constructed since The Gardens’ 2005 opening.  Much of the land between it and the Parliament House is vacant.   Today, a single stretch of rooms along Orange Blossom Trail is the last remnant of the Carolina Moon.  

It’s quite unlikely in the 1930’s Mr. Moon had any idea the colorful history that Moon’s Tourist Camp would create.

Slideshow of the Carolina Moon Trailer Camp:

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Sources:
Orlando, A Centennial History, Eve Bacon, 1975
A Guide to Historic Orlando, Steve Rajtar, 2006
Wanzie Presents
GLBT History Museum of Central Florida
Sandspur, 12-3-1936
Boca Raton News, 1-8-1990

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Orlando City Lions and a Quick History of Sports in Orlando

778646_621274967930795_783447953_oMajor League Soccer comes to Orlando in 2015 when Orlando City Soccer joins MLS as an expansion team.  The announcement was held at the historic Cheyenne Saloon on Church Street.   (RetroPost: Historic significance of Church Street)  The Cheyenne Saloon was where the Orlando Magic, our other current major league team, was announced in 1987.

The Orlando City Lions add to a long list of professional sports teams in Orlando covering the minor leagues to major leagues in almost every team sport.   Some lasted a few years — WNBA Orlando Miracle —  hibernated and returned a decade later — Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL Hockey) — or played a single season XFL’s Orlando Rage.

Some Orlando sports history highlights:

Baseball

Baseball in Orlando goes back to the 1910’s, and might be most notable for hosting spring training.  The Minnesota Twins trained here for decades (RetroPost:  The Twins in Orlando).   Orlando had a baseball team off and on- from 1919 until 2003 largely in the Florida State League.   Known as the Orlando Rays for the majority of 40 years when the team dissolved in 2003, there were previous clubs, incarnations, and affiliations: Orlando Tigers, Orlando Twins, Orlando Dodgers, Orlando Seratomas, and Orlando Cubs.

69indcap-orlando-11-29

1967 Divison Playoff Program for the Orlando Panthers (source)

Football

Orlando football’s most recent success was indoors with the Orlando Predators (since 1991).  However, professional football goes back to the 1960’s and the time of the Continental Football League and the Orlando Panthers.  The Panthers played from 1966 until the league folded in 1969, and won two league championships during that time.

Other football in Orlando (all of which played in the Citrus Bowl):

  • Orlando Renegades (1985) United States Football League
  • Orlando Thunder (1991-92) World League of American Football
  • Orlando Rage (2001) XFL
  • Florida Tuskers (2009) United Football League

Orlando City should see greater success and longevity because of an existing and enthusiastic fan base and the investment of a new soccer stadium west of I-4.   Perhaps Orlando’s greatest football glory will not come in American Football but in futball (okay, soccer).

A look back at past Orlando football club logos:

OrlandoThunder91

Orlando Thunder
1991-92

Orlando-renegades

Orlando Renegades
1985

ewf4jierci7flclfkk4lu7mvw

Orlando Rage
2001

Categories: orlando retro | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Lake Lucerne

Two scenes from Lake Lucerne more than a century after being settled.

Two scenes from Lake Lucerne more than a century after being settled.

The history around Lake Lucerne dates back to the days before Orlando was called Orlando.   One of the area’s early pioneers, James P. Hughey, moved here from Georgia in 1855.    Mr. Hughey settled onto 160 acres west of Lake Lucerne after arriving here in a covered wagon with oxen in tow.   Historian Eve Bacon described the surroundings upon his arrival, “He found a small steam of clear water running into the lake coming from under a larger oak tree.”

Mr. Hughey built a log cabin in the area that is likely covered with I-4 and the 408 today.   There he lived for 20 years.  His home was open to many travelers.  And his acreage was used to grow cotton fields and orange groves.

Lake Lucerne has continued to play a significant role in Orlando’s landscape for over 15o years.  Later in the 1880’s it was the site of the Lucerne Hotel, and then the Dr. Phillips home.   Today, the northern part lies under the 408 andOrange Avenue runs rights across it.   It’s an understatement to say the view from the shores of Lake Lucerne are quite different from Mr. Hughey’s days.

Source:

Orlando, A Centennial History, Eve Bacon 1975

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Pineapples, Water Parks, and the History of Lake Ivanhoe

A postcard showing the Ivanhoe Pinery, and a Google map image of the scene today.

A postcard showing the Ivanhoe Pinery, and a Google map image of the scene today.

This is a post written for Bungalower.

The history behind Orlando’s bungalow neighborhoods is a special part of their charm, and each neighborhood has unique stories about its origins. A great example of that is a story about College Park/Ivanhoe Village it was the cozy, residential community as it is today. Over 100 years ago, one man made Lake Ivanhoe the center of the U.S. pineapple industry and later turned the same land into one of Orlando’s first amusement parks.

When Orlando got its start in the 1800’s, Central Florida could have been described as a tropical wilderness. Many of the pioneers who settled here were successful business people that relocated their entrepreneurial drive to Orlando. One such entrepreneur was George I. Russell. Mr. Russell, an early settler near Lake Ivanhoe, was a sharp businessmen and it could be said he had the foresight to build an amusement park here long before Walt Disney ever had the idea.

George Russell moved to Florida in 1885 from Connecticut for the perceived healthy climate. He arrived in Tampa, but fell love and moved to Orlando after visiting here. Shortly after arriving, he and a business partner opened up shop downtown near Pine Street and the railroad tracks selling hay, feed, fertilizer, and grain. It enjoyed a great deal of success and was soon one of the largest businesses of its kind in Florida.

Enjoying the prosperity of his new business, Mr. Russell bought a large parcel of land on the southern side of Lake Ivanhoe. There he built a large home (around where I-4 and the DoubleTree are today).

The tropical fruits that could grow in Florida and not in other parts of the country fascinated many who moved here. The citrus industry was already well established by this time, but seeing pineapples growing around the homes in Orlando sparked an idea for Mr. Russell to grow and harvest them for profit.

He developed his acreage between Lake Concord and Lake Ivanhoe into a pinery (basically a pineapple farm). At first, he planted the pineapple varieties commonly grown in the area, but soon imported varieties from Hawaii and Puerto Rico. In the mid-1890’s, the citrus industry was devastated by freezing temperatures. This created an urgency to protect his pineapples. Wooden sheds were built across the pinery and steam boilers for heat were installed. Mr. Russell found that the plants were not just protected, but thrived in the ideal conditions of the sheds and steam. He added additional pineries until there were over 20 acres of pineapples across the area. In 1900, The Florida Agriculturist proclaimed Orlando as “the Mother of the pineapple business” and noted Florida supplied most of the pineapples to the U.S.

An ad for Russell’s Pineapples in 1897 said the Ivanhoe pineries were “known throughout the United States as producing the finest fruit ever put on the market.” They became so popular that plants, while still planted in local soil, were carefully packed in wooden crates and shipped to Washington D.C. There they were planted in the White House Conservatory to grow and harvest for President McKinley to enjoy fresh Ivanhoe pineapples.

The Florida pineapple industry quickly died out when more trade opened with Cuba. No longer as profitable, Mr. Russell got out of the pineapple business and turned his attention to his third Orlando venture, a water park.

Water slide at Joyland on Lake Ivanhoe in the 1910's.

Water slide at Joyland on Lake Ivanhoe in the 1910’s.

In 1910, he built Russell’s Point (also called Ivanhoe Park). Orlando historian Eve Bacon described it as “an amusement and recreation park on Lake Ivanhoe, that became the favorite gathering place for Orlandoans of all ages.” This made the area the spot for indoor and outdoor fun with a dock, water slides, a dance hall, picnic area, and 50 boats for fishing and enjoying the lake. Movies – silent films at the time – were often featured. Russell’s Point was later called Joyland after a contest was held to rename to the popular entertainment location. The amusement park operated for about nine years.

George Russell grew three successful ventures, the grain and fertilizer business downtown, the pineries, and then Joyland. The Lake Ivanhoe area that was a special part of Mr. Russell’s life would soon become home to many others. He closed Joyland and sold his 30 acres of property in 1919 to be developed into the subdivision from which College Park would emerge.

__________________
Sources: 
The Morning Sentinel , June 3, 1915
Orlando, A Centennial History, Eve Bacon, 1975
Florida Farmer & Fruit Grower, June 4, 1897
University of Florida Digtal Collections
The Florida Agriculturist, Sep 5, 1900
 
A Joyland ad from a 1915 edition of the Morning Sentinel

A Joyland ad from a 1915 edition of the Morning Sentinel

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A Few Orlando Retro Updates

Sure this is a history blog, so one might not think there is a need for updates.  That’s not the case in our changing city.  Here are some updates to posts about some of the retro locations around Orlando. The Minute Maid Headquarters Building (Original Post) – The days are numbered for this building, because it is soon to be demolished.  Signs have gone up announcing it will be the site of a new Wawa. photo

Minute Maid Headquarters

Minute Maid Headquarters

Church Street Station Depot (Original Post) One of Orlando’s icon historic structures has been empty for several years.  It’s soon to be the site of Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill.  (Story: Bungalower)  Along with the sports bar, an upscale restaurant is in the plans.  And some interesting options for storage. Construction continues along the rails for the Sun Rail debuting next year. (Story: Orlando Business Journal)

Church Street Depot

Church Street Depot

Cherry Plaza Hotel (Lake Eola) (Original Post) Construction continues on the World of Beer which will open in the bottom level of the former Cherry Plaza Hotel.  Soon we can enjoy a big selection of beers and a lake view on the grounds President Johnson and Walt Disney walked 50 years ago.  (Story: Bungalower)

Cherry Plaza Hotel from the West

Cherry Plaza Hotel from the West

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Three Orlando Businesses in Vintage Publix Buildings

The first Publix Supermarket in Winter Haven, FL.   Similar stylings can be seen on the Orlando buildings listed below.

The first Publix Supermarket in Winter Haven, FL. Similar stylings can be seen on the Orlando buildings listed below.

Publix

Shopping has been a pleasure at Publix for Orlando residents since the 30’s. George Jenkins started his company in nearby Winter Haven in 1930.  Despite the depression, his stores were successful businesses and Publix quickly grew throughout Central Florida.  In 1940, he created Florida’s first supermarket.  As described on Publix’s website, it was a “‘food palace’ of marble, glass and stucco, and equipped it with innovations never seen before in a grocery store. Air conditioning. Fluorescent lighting. Electric-eye doors. Frozen food cases. Piped-in music. Eight-foot-wide aisles. Open dairy cases designed to Mr. George’s specifications. In-store donut and flower shops. People traveled from miles to shop there, and Publix prospered.”

Today there are over 1000 Publix locations and dozens within Orlando.   As new locations are added, the old buildings are sometimes left behind.   The Publix in College Park has operated on the same site (though the building has been updated) for about 60 years, but most of the old Publix buildings have been torn down or repurposed.

Here are three existing buildings that represent vintage Publix supermarkets that now house other Orlando businesses.

Dexter's of Thornton Park Now a popular brunch spot, this building was constructed in 1936 and the first Publix in the area.

Dexter’s of Thornton Park

Now a popular brunch spot, this building was constructed in 1936 and the first Publix in the area.

First Class Dry Cleaners Once the site of a large Publix Supermarket, today this Orange Blossom Trail building is a dry cleaner.

First Class Dry Cleaners

Once the site of a large Publix Supermarket, today this Orange Blossom Trail building is a dry cleaner.

Colonial Photo and Hobby A local icon in itself as a photo and hobby shop in what was once a Publix Supermarket.

Colonial Photo and Hobby

A local icon in itself as a photo and hobby shop in what was once a Publix Supermarket.

An Orlando Publix ad from the 1947 Morning Sentinel Bacon at 56 cents a pound!

An Orlando Publix ad from the 1947 Morning Sentinel
Bacon at 56 cents a pound!

Categories: Retro Lists | 1 Comment

The Grand Theatre

Top: Grand Theatre - circa 1915 Bottom: The site today is mostly a parking lot - 2013

Top: Grand Theatre circa 1915
Bottom: Mostly a Parking Lot Today 2013

The Grand Theatre

Orlando residents have enjoyed attending live performances and movies in the comfort of a theater since 1884. The first major theatre was an opera house downtown. It was housed in a large wooden frame building with a stage lit by kerosene lamps (This was roughly where the Solaire high-rise apartment building is today).   The Grand Theatre came along in 1912. By this time, Orlando had other theaters, but the growing popularity of motion pictures seemed like a good opportunity for Orlando businessman, Colonel T.J. Watkins. He began constructing the Grand Theatre and Grand Hotel at the Nashville Block located between Central and Pine.

The Grand Theatre opened as a silent movie house, when motion pictures were a draw even without sound. The film projectors were hand-cranked.  Musicians played music live for the films. Popular musicians were even billed along with the movie. A few years after opening, the theatre was one of the first locally to use a photoplayer, which was a sort of automated orchestra for silent films.   In 1915, the theatre introduced a new policy that included partitioning half of the balcony for use by African-American film goers.

"A Romance at Orlando"

“A Romance at Orlando”

“Romance at Orlando”

Today Orlando is better known for movie studios than movies filmed here. Although Universal Studios and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are mostly theme parks, some movies have been filmed here. The list includes Parenthood (1989), The Waterboy (1998), and admit it or not Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (2006).  When did we get our start in the movie business?  In 1914 with the silent film Romance in Orlando.

Filming made front page news of The Morning Sentinel on December 11, 1913.  Scenes were filmed around Orlando at businesses and the home of city pioneer Braxton Beacham (You might recognize the name from the Beacham Theatre).   The newspaper described a scene in the moving involving a political rally and being filmed at the bandstand.  It mentioned when the camera panned around who among the locals could be seen in the crowd.  The story noted screen time was given to Fire Chief William Dean, City Alderman W.P. Watson, and in terms that seem crass today, “even the old negro Garey, whom everybody knows.”

Romance at Orlando opened at The Grand Theatre January 13 & 14, 1914 just one month after filming.  The Grand seated about 750 people and every seat must have been filled as 3000 people watched the film on those two days.  The Morning Sentinel describing the film as a, “pleasing picture made popular by the appearance of local characters.”

Astor Theatre

Silent films gave way to movies with sound.  Gone With The Wind was such a hit after its 1939 release that The Grand was sold out for two months straight.  In the decade to follow the building began to age and was in need of updating in order to stay relevant.   In 1954, the theatre was completely redecorated, refurbished, and rebranded as the Astor Theatre.  Newer technology — including a sound system and air conditioning — were added.   Two rows of seats were removed from the back to make room for concessions and the women’s room was outfitted with a powder bar.   Now, the ladies could freshen up during intermission.

Ushers await outside the Grand Theatre - Around 1930

Ushers await outside the Grand Theatre – Around 1930

The new name and remodel were not enough to save the Grand.  The screen went dark in the early sixties and the theatre was torn down about 1965.  In the post card scene above, the brick building seen to the right of the theatre still stands (where Backbooth bar is currently located).  Nothing is really left of the Grand Theatre today, but memories of the silver screens golden age.

Categories: Post Card Stories | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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