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The Florida Theater opened on September 10, 1928, with the latest word in movie entertainment, marvelous new inventions called Vitaphone and Movietone. It was the first Gainesville theater to offer sound movies; "The Jazz Singer," the first feature-length talking picture, was not the opening movie but Gainesville saw it a couple of weeks later. A quarter of a million dollars had been invested in the building and equipment, seating capacity was over 1,100, and the design featured a unique floor plan which eliminated a balcony. At the time, there were two other motion picture theaters in Gainesville—the Lyric, located at 326 East Main South (now 212 Southeast 1st Street), and the Baird, located at 145 East Union Street (now 19 Southeast 1st Avenue). The Florida Theater has had a rich and varied history. In 1930 Gainesville was embroiled in controversy when a Sunday afternoon movie was shown; the manager, Mr. Claude Lee, was arrested and charged with violation of the city's blue laws. In 1936 Sally Rand appeared in person, not with fans but with balloons; prices were 40 cents for the matinee, 55 cents for the evening show, and 25 cents for children. In the 1970s it was the Great Southern Music Hall with live acts including B.B. King, Dave Brubeck, and Melissa Manchester. When this photograph was taken, "The Great Victor Herbert" was playing with Mary Martin in her film debut; the movie was released in 1939 and co-starred Allan Jones. Wise's Drug Store has been next door to the Florida Theater since 1937. It was on the east side of the theater until 1959, and there was a doorway between Wise's and the theater lobby so patrons could come out of the movie and go directly to Wise's soda fountain without having to go outside. Wise's moved to larger quarters on the west side of the theater in 1959. Joe Wise came to Gainesville in 1929; he was a member of the City Commission and served one year as Mayor-Commissioner. He died in 1983. This photograph was copied with the permission of Edgar H. "Buddy" Wise III.
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