October 5, 2011
On June 20, 1938, the Port Theatre opened for its first movie presentation, and the residents of Port St. Joe have engaged in a love affair with the building ever since. People still recall the movies they saw such as “Lassie Come Home” in 1944 or “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1952. Musicals, live theater, and community benefits and events were also held until the theatre closed around 1967. Since then, the building has fallen into disrepair, battered by time and hurricanes. While some improvements were made by recent owners Paula and Wade Clark, the building today remains closed and unattended, in stark contrast to the expressed desire and wishful thinking of many locals through the years.
In June 2003, the Port Theatre was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Even through years of neglect, the following appeared in a letter from the Florida Department of State: “To qualify forlisting in the National Register, a property must not only be shown to have a documented area of historic significance, it must also retain physical integrity. The theatre, although subjected to damage from two hurricanes, has retained its historic character. The entry, lobby, auditorium, reconstructed balcony, projection room, manager’s apartment, and circulation patterns characteristic of a public theatre remain intact.” The United States Department of the Interior notes, “The Art Deco Style treatment of the façade is largely intact and still maintains a distinct and significant presence on the main commercial thoroughfare of Port St. Joe.”Also noted are the acoustics “within the three-story auditorium space is exceptional.”
For the past two years, a steering committed dedicated to the revitalization of the historic Port Theatre hasheld meetings with local and regional stakeholders and professionals. The result is the formation of the board for the Port Theatre Art & Culture Center, a group dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of thislocal treasure and historic resource. The Articles of Incorporation have already been submitted, and the nonprofit (501 (c)(3) status will be obtained prior to the end of the year.
A collaborative framework provides a distinct difference in this effort. The Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition has pledged start-up funds in support of an art and culture center in Gulf County. The FCCC envisions an exhibition space for their Plein Air annual event, which draws visitors from across the country. The Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency has also pledged support as the theatre is within the redevelopment area and is a major component of their planning. Revitalization of the theatre will serve as an economic generator to the downtown area as well as the entire region.
The first meeting of the PTACC Board was held last week, and Directors shared their vision for the theater:a revitalization that honors the legacy of the theatre, a multi-use facility that will serve the communityin a multitude of ways and appeals to all age groups, a cultural hub for the community, programming tounite families, a tourist attraction, a showcase for local talent, and a place to be inspired, and have fun—allaccomplished through a grass-roots community effort.
The PTACC Board looks forward to working with the community to make the dream of reopening the Port Theatre a reality. In time, opportunities will be available to serve on committees to help in the planning,design, programming, and historic preservation. In the meantime, please offer any ideas or assistance. Remembrances, oral histories, old photos and relics of the theatre would be welcome.
Article from WJHG Television, Panama City. To view the article and see the video on their website, click here.
The Port Theater has been dormant for over four decades, but now a group of local business owners and art organizations want to restore it to its former glory.