Stop 44: The1948 Pasco Theater (1920 Ben Ali Motion Pictures, Colonial Motion Pictures, The 1922 African American Queen Silent Theatre, The 1926 Crescent Theater, and the 1950 Joy Lan Drive In Theatre)
South State Bank (site of “The Pasco” with talk of The Crescent Theatre and Joy Lan Drive-Inn as well as silent moving picture locations).
You are at the site of the South State Bank. This space housed “The Pasco,” a beloved movie theatre in Dade City. (Going back even farther, this was the site of the home of Orville Limbaugh Dayton who sold it to the Dade City Woman’s Club in 1915, for $3,000.)
Life was rugged in the early decades of Dade City. Hard work and the consequences of the environment with a wavering economy brought challenges. Diversions included family gatherings, dances at the Massey Hall, community parades, church bazaars and life events of great joy and even sometimes sorrow like weddings, births, and funerals.
A new escape was coming and Dade City was eager to embrace it. By about 1905, in the USA, “moving pictures houses” were beginning to revolutionize entertainment. The 1920 Sanborn Insurance Map of Dade City indicated that ‘motion pictures’ were shown at a location beside what is now the Chamber building near Church and Pasco Avenue that also served as a boarding house. We know that the Ben Ali Motion Picture House was operating at that location in 1920-21 followed by the Colonial Moving Picture Theatre. Some advertisements and notices appear in archives. Take a look! Information is abundant from 1913 to 1921 that the Ben Ali Moving Pictures was a popular silent film venue. Mr. R.H. Norman sold the Ben Ali Cinemograph Theatre to Glen E. White of Mulberry and Mrs. Hattie E. White of Dade City in 1921, and by 1922, it was renamed the Colonial Moving Pictures. Some management names included Walter Hargraves, R.H. Norman, P.H. Zielke, and Vivian Gaskins who operated the sites. These early silent movies must have been a joy.
Clyde Hobby interviewed 103-year-old Stanley Burnside about the silent movie theatre in June of 2022 and Mr. Burnside recalled the yellow building that housed the theater at the intersection of Church Avenue and 8th Street. This was the only theater that showed silent movies. Mr. Burnside explained that at the beginning of every movie, a message was printed on the movie screen which read,“Silence is golden. Let your neighbor enjoy the talkies.”
In addition, The Queen opened in 1922 as a theatre for African Americans. In the Jim Crow south, segregation was in place, and Blacks were not allowed to attend the motion picture houses or later the movie theatre. The Queen was located on the first floor of the Odd Fellows Hall for Blacks on Main Street. William E. Pendergrast and Jack Dozier initiated the theatre named The Queen.
By 1926, Dade City had its very own new theatre, The Crescent Theater in Crescent Park, Dade City with a seating capacity of 900. It opened as a movie house on April 15, 1926. Floyd Eades was the house manager and a local orchestra provided the music. Its debut performance was “A Japanese Girl,” as a benefit two-act opera for the American Legion Post which had just been named for a fallen soldier of World War I. Folks were incredibly proud of the state-of-the-art theatre at the northeast corner of 5th Street and Florida Avenue. 5th street was one of the main roads into Dade City. It was the principal theater of the Florida Boom before and after World War II. By 1945, traffic patterns had changed, and the main thoroughfare was then 7th Street. The theatre was sold in 1950, and the location was reopened as a senior center with a similar façade as the original theatre and later housed CARES Crescent Center.
Well, I digress a bit, but it is important to know the background before we talk briefly about this location that is still revered by many. This is the site of “The Pasco,” a theatre that is most recognizable in memory for Dade City. During the Jim Crow era, Blacks were restricted to sitting in the balcony only.It opened in 1948, and met with a very dramatic final act in 1999. The Community National Bank made a deal with Carmike Cinemas Inc. to purchase the cinema in a period when rental VCRs and large complex movie theatres were getting huge business. When information was revealed of the impending sale, folks appealed to the city commission who gave a two-week reprieve. A series of protests occurred but in-the-end, the demolition took place.
With folks protesting, Police Captain David Duff assigned extra patrols for fear that people might get hurt in their vigor to protect the beloved theatre. Folks demonstrated in the streets and yet today, many still mourn the loss of their cinema. Folks stood outside crying and reminiscing about their years of attending the theatre in town. Bitterness lingers when the Facebook page entitled, You Remember If You Grew UP In Dade City, periodically posts old photos of the beloved theatre and replies come rolling in with abundance!
With only about 1,000 drive in theatres still existent in the United States, Dade City is in possession of one of these priceless sites; The Joy Lan Drive In Theatre on U.S. 301 just north of Dade City. The $55,000 outdoor theatre opened on March 9, 1950 with the movie, Challenge to Lassie and continues operating today, with only a one-year hiatus between owners.