Richey Suncoast Theatre History Assignment
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HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
The Meighan/Richey Suncoast Theatre
This page was last revised on Sept. 5, 2015.
The first theater in New Port Richey opened in 1921. It was the Palms Theatre, owned by J. S. Jackson. The theater was a very small building with a dirt floor, located on Main Street. Movies were usually shown on Wednesday and Saturday nights. On March 13, 1925, the New Port Richey Press reported that Jackson expected to begin construction within 90 days on a new 40 by 100 foot theater on Main Street west of the current location, and that the old building would be torn down. The plans for a new Palms Theatre did not materialize, however, and Jackson became the manager of the Meighan Theatre.
On Sept. 4, 1925, the New Port Richey Press reported:
$50,000 MOVIE HOUSE TO BE BUILT SOON
A new $50,000 motion picture theatre will be built on the corner of the Boulevard and Nebraska avenue on the site now occupied by the Dixie Filling Station, according to an announcement just made by the incorporators of the Richey Amusement Company, which is now in process of formation, with a fully paid up capital of $50,000. The incorporators of the new company are W. K. Jahn, Jas. W. Clark, E. A. Leeston-Smith, Chas. W. Barnett, F. I. Grey, and F. E. Dingus. Officers of the company will be Jas. W. Clark, president; E. A. Leeston-Smith and F. L. Grey, vice-president; W. K. Jahn, secretary and Chas. W. Barnett, assistant secretary and treasurer.
The site of the new theatre was purchased from E. A. Leeston-Smith and is one of the corners of his valuable block recently purchased from M. C. Brake. The building will be 50 by 95 feet, of modified Moorish type, of stucco finish in colors. The front and side of the building will be of ornate design and handsome of appearance according to a sketch which has already been received from the architect. Plans for the building are now being prepared and construction will start within thirty days. Mr. Stockwood, operating the Dixie Filling Station, is to vacate the premises on October first and work will be started as soon as the present frame building can be moved off.
The theatre has been leased to Calkins & Hudson, of Brooksville, who will operate it. This firm is now operating a chain of theatres in several cities of this section. It is understood that the leasees will install the latest type projecting machine. The theatre will be equipped with opera seats and will have a capacity of 500, including a gallery seating about 150. Plans also provide for a suitable stage with drop curtains and other equipment for vaudeville and plays.
On Oct. 23, 1925, the New Port Richey Press reported, “Material for the new palatial motion picture theatre began to arrive this week and has been placed on the ground preparatory to beginning construction work.”
On Nov. 6, 1925, the New Port Richey Press reported, “Ground was broken on Wednesday for the foundation of the new theatre building to be erected at the corner of Nebraska avenue and the Boulevard by the Richey amusement Company, a corporation composed of local business men. L. C. Luppens has the contract for the building. Material for the job has been ordered and is enroute, according to Mr. Luppens, who states that the building will be pushed as rapidly as the railroad can make delivery of materials.”
On June 25, 1926, the New Port Richey Press reported, “New Port Richey’s beautiful new motion picture theatre has been named the 'Thomas Meighan Theatre' in tribute to the famous film star who has adopted New Port Richey as his favorite Florida city and who has been largely instrumental in interesting here some of the brightest stars of the screen and stage. ... It was hoped that Mr. Meighan would be on hand to crack a bottle of champagne over the corner-stone of the theatre. It was found to be impossible for the famous screen star to be present in person, but the next best happening is announced with the statement that the picture house’s first attraction will be Thomas Meighan in 'The New Klondike,' a picture of Florida during the boom.” The article stated that Thomas Reed Martin was the architect of the new theater.
In 1927, Meighan built a large home in New Port Richey and spent the winters here. He hoped to attract other movie stars to the area, and announced his intention to film the 1927 motion picture We're All Gamblers in New Port Richey, although it was shot in Miami. He had become interested in Florida real estate earlier, having purchased property in Ocala in 1925. Meighan’s brother, James E. Meighan, a real estate agent, had spent the winter of 1925-26 in New Port Richey, where he owned considerable property. According to the New Port Richey Press, James Meighan was the representative of a syndicate that included his brother Thomas, Gloria Swanson, Victor Heerman, Nathan Burkan, and other celebrities of the theater world.
The Meighan Theatre opened July 1, 1926, with a showing of the movie The New Klondike, starring Meighan. According to the New Port Richey Press, congratulatory telegrams were read from the stage by State Sen. Jesse Mitchell and Charles DeWoody. Telegrams were received from Meighan, Gov. John W. Martin, Adolph Zukor, Ed Wynn, S. R. Kent, Gene Buck, David Warfield, Earl Benham, George R. Sims, and others. The newspaper reported that more than a hundred persons were unable to get seats at the opening, and that manager J. S. Jackson announced that he had arranged to install a complete cooling system in the new playhouse.
On July 16, 1926, the New Port Richey Press listed the movies for the following week: Pretty Ladies, starring Tom Moore, ZaSu Pitts, Ann Pennington, and Lillian Tashman, on Sunday and Monday; Ship of Souls, starring Bert Lytell and Lillian Rich, on Tuesday and Wednesday; Midnight Molly, starring Evely Brent, on Thursday; Rugged Water, starring Warner Baxter, on Friday; and Triple Action, starring Pete Morrison, on Saturday.
On Jan. 4, 1927, in the election for New Port Richey mayor and city council, residents voted to allow theaters to open on Sundays (120 for, 80 against). They also voted to allow baseball on Sundays, but voted not to allow dancing on Sundays.
On March 4, 1927, the New Port Richey Press reported that the Meighan Theatre had cost $60,000.
On April 22, 1927, the New Port Richey Press reported, “An innovation in music has been introduced at Meighan theatre. Coming from the front of the theatre, the melodious tones of a great pipe organ, played by a skilled musician, can be heard by the audience. The tones amplify and diminish, just as the tones one hears in the most magnificent theatres, and the music is restful and pleasant. The new feature has been added recently by manger Jackson in an effort to give the people of New Port Richey the most modern entertainment possible, and with the high class of new pictures now being shown, this makes the Meighan one of the best all 'round picture houses in the state.”
On Jan. 11, 1929, the New Port Richey Press reported that J. S. Jackson, manager of the Meighan Theatre, said that it would be necessary to resume the showing of Sunday movies. He had agreed to stop showing movies on Sundays provided that attendance at the Tuesday and Wednesday shows was sufficient to offset the losses caused by giving up the Sunday and Monday pictures. He said, “The church people have had their chance. They failed to take advantage of it, so to protect ourselves we must return to Sunday, which was always our best day.”
Sometime in 1929 the Meighan Theatre closed.
On Apr. 12, 1929, the New Port Richey Press reported that J. S. Jackson, “until last week manager of the Meighan Theatre here, has 'gone back to his first love' and is remodeling the old Palms theatre building again.” The Palms Theatre re-opened in early 1930.
The Meighan Theatre re-opened in December 1929.
An advertisement for the Meighan Theatre on Feb. 7, 1930, gave the admission price as 10 cents for children and 35 cents for adults. It showed movies scheduled seven days per week, each playing for two nights except for the Saturday feature.
On Jan. 17, 1930, the New Port Richey Press reported that Thomas Meighan appeared in person at the theater between the two showings of his movie, The Racket. The article reported the largest attendance ever at the theater. “Promptly at the beginning of the second show, the expectancy of the packed auditorium was rewarded, for Thomas Meighan, in person, left his waiting limousine with Mrs. Meighan and another distinguished looking young lady and entered the theatre. Resounding cheers greeted the famous visitor following his introduction by Warren E. Burns, neighbor of the Meighans at Jasmin Point Estates, voicing appreciation of the entire city and surrounding country at being honored by the presence of the great actor.”
On Mar. 7, 1930, the New Port Richey Press reported that sound movies would premiere at the Meighan Theatre on Sunday evening, March 9. The article reported that the sound equipment was installed under the direction of E. B. Kinard of the Audiphone Corporation of America and included “both the disc and film type.” In a 1963 history column, John W. Parkes wrote that Thomas Meighan was present to push the button that started the sound equipment; contemporary accounts apparently do not mention this.
On Apr. 11, 1930, the New Port Richey Press reported, “There is a noticeable increase in patronage at the Meighan which is due to the perfection of the sound mechanism and a distinct understanding between Manager Poole and the film distributing agencies as to the quality of the releases assigned to the Meighan. The article also reported that the summer price schedule -- 40 cents for adults and 15 cents for children -- would go into effect next week. The newspaper also reported that the theater had recently offered a midnight show and would repeat the “innovation in the local amusement field” at “infrequent intervals.”
On May 2, 1930, the New Port Richey Press reported that the theater would temporarily abandon the showing of sound pictures and return to silent films for the summer because improvements in the sound needed to be made; prices would be reduced to 10 cents and 20 cents.
On Nov. 28, 1930, the New Port Richey Press reported that the Meighan Theatre had re-opened and had been leased by John W. Freeman, who had formerly operated a theater in Daytona Beach. The article stated that the Meighan Theatre would be open on Fridays through Sundays until patronage warranted remaining open full time. The admission price was set at 30 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.
An ad for the Meighan Theatre on Jan. 2, 1931, says “All Talking - Prices Always 30c and 15c.” It lists a Friday-Saturday double feature, a Sunday-Monday feature, and a Wednesday special. The Friday-Saturday presentation included “Graham McNamee talking news.”
Sometime around 1934 the Meighan Theatre closed, a victim of the depression.
On April 26, 1937, the Evening Independent reported that the theater was purchased by Morris Legendre, head of a chain of southern theaters headquartered in Summerville S. C. The newspaper reported that the theater will open as a motion picture house on Nov. 1. According to another source, the theater was sold for $4,000.
On Jan. 7, 1938, the New Port Richey Press reported that Morris Legendre and Sidney Legendre, operators and owners of a string of theaters with headquarters in Summerville, S. C., had purchased the theater last April and planned to re-open the theater in three weeks.
On Jan. 28, 1938, the New Port Richey Press reported:
NEW PORT RICHEY THEATRE TO OPEN DOORS TONIGHT
The New Port Richey theatre, housed in the former Meighan theatre building, opens its doors to the public tonight, after a lapse of some four years.
The entire theatre has been newly decorated and renovated and made to conform to best acoustic possibilities for the showing of the best sound-with-picture entertainment that the operators can procure. The owners operate a string of theatres in Virginia, North and south Carolina and this is their first venture into Florida. They purchased the building here last spring and lately have made decided improvements to the property which cost in the days of the “boom” about $45,000.
Workmen have been busy all week making repairs and installing over 300 comfortable, leather upholstered seats. A special screen has been put into place and a modern projection machine placed in a fire proof booth. The building was originally built for theatre purposes only and has, in addition to the sloping main floor, a large balcony, a portion of which has been set aside for colored people. The entire seating capacity is around 500, according to Manager Sam Trincher, who has been in the city the past three weeks getting the place into shape for the gala opening tonight.
Rudy Snyder, a long-time local resident, recalled in a 1974 newspaper interview that black people who attended the theater bought their tickets at the box office and then went to the side of the building where they had to enter up a fire escape and sit in a segregated section of the balcony.
The New Port Richey Theatre closed for the summer in 1938 and re-opened on Saturday night, Oct. 15, 1938, under the management of Mr. and Mrs. H. P. Quigley. It operated for three days, after which time the people who had agreed to lease the theater left town because of a lack of finances. The New Port Richey Press reported, “The show, it is believed, if properly equipped and operated, would make money for someone, and would receive good support from people of this section.”
The theater subsequently re-opened under the management of Lewis Cooper.
On Sept. 30, 1939, the Evening Independent reported, “Addison Miller has purchased the local theater building from the former owners, Legendre Brothers, of Summerville, S. C., it was learned today. ... It is planned to open the theater here in November under lease.”
On Dec. 2, 1939, the Evening Independent reported, “The local motion picture house, formerly known as the Meighan theater, will re-open Friday night. F. L. Alig, of Beach Amusements, Inc., lessee of the theater, has made final preparations for the opening.”
On July 12, 1940, the New Port Richey Press reported, “Announcement is made this week of the purchase of the Vogue theatre business of this city by Floyd Theatres, a concern which operates a chain of nine theatres in Florida and nine in Georgia. The same concern operates nearby theatres of the Royal in Tarpon Springs and the Dade City theatre. The former management played its last performance her Saturday night and the show was closed all of this week for repairs and changes, but will re-open on Sunday next, July 14, and will play each night with matinees Saturday and Sunday. New low prices 10c and 15c, which carries no government defense tax, will prevail. ... Jack Glavich has been named to manage the local theatre.”
The theater apparently ceased operation in 1941 or 1942, after which the building housed Casey’s Barber Shop. At about this time, Addison Miller, who had purchased the former Meighan home, also purchased the theater.
In September 1944 Miller died. In October 1944, Charles H. Richelieu, owner of the Tarpon Theatre in Tarpon Springs, purchased the Vogue Theater from the Miller estate.
Richelieu re-opened the Vogue Theatre on Friday, Jan. 26, 1945, showing Two Girls and a Sailor starring Van Johnson. The theater was again under the management of Lewis Cooper. Richelieu had installed new RCA Victor sound equipment.
On Nov. 14, 1947, the New Port Richey Press reported that the side walls of the Vogue Theatre were being re-covered to improve the acoustics and new balcony seats were being installed. The theater, still owned by Charles Richelieu, re-opened on Nov. 29, 1947, under the management of Ralph N. Tippett.
On Oct. 14, 1949, the New Port Richey Press reported that R. F. Salzer would become the manager of the theater.
On. Aug. 14, 1950, the New Port Richey Press reported that extensive improvements to the Vogue Theatre were underway including the extension of the back of the building, which would lengthen the theater by about 25 feet. The construction was designed to improve the picture quality and allow for more seats on the ground floor. Manager Ralph Tippett said the theater would not close for the summer, as had been reported, but might close for a brief period for certain changes to the building.
On Dec. 29, 1950, the New Port Richey Press quoted Charles Richelieu as saying the remodeling was 90 per cent completed, the only thing remaining being the installation of luxurious carpets which had been ordered about four months ago but which had not yet arrived. The theater was extended about 30 feet, a new and larger floating screen was installed, and new seats were installed which were 22 inches wide, compared to 18 inches for the old seats. A new heating system was installed in the building, which was already completely air conditioned.
On March 17, 1950, the New Port Richey Press reported that a new projector and a new Western Electric sound system had been installed last week in the Vogue Theatre.
On Feb. 6, 1951, a celebration marking the remodeling was held. Before the movie began, Mayor Edwin C. Brookman made a short address and the Gulf High School band performed.
On May 18, 1951, the New Port Richey Press reported that Richelieu sold the theater to H. C. Baker, lately of Tampa, who would move to New Port Richey.
Information for more recent years is currently lacking. However, at some point, the name of the theater was changed from the Vogue to the Cinema.
In the 1960s, the Church of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, which was severely overcrowded, rented the Cinema Theatre, and three Masses were celebrated there each Sunday. According to a history of the church, all told, some 1,500 parishioners were served in this piecemeal manner.
The Cinema, facing competition from a new rocking chair theater behind Southgate Shopping Center, ceased operations in 1968.
In May 1972 the Suncoast Young People’s Theater purchased the theater.
On Aug. 24, 1972, the West Pasco Chronicle reported, “A few months ago the Suncoast Young People’s Theater purchased the old theater building, which has been variously known as the Thomas Meighan Theater, The Cinema, and The Vogue. Their purpose, in addition to finding a place to present their productions, was to obtain a building that might also serve as a cultural center for the area and in which other cultural events might take place.”
In 1972 the theater re-opened as a community theater featuring live productions under the name Richey Suncoast Theatre. The organization was formed at that time with a membership of 42 persons. The first production was Fiddler On the Roof in September 1972.
In 1978, the board of directors of the Richey Suncoast Theatre burned the mortgage on funds for remodeling and refurbishing the theater. At that time, William Maytum was president of the organization, which then had a membership of 1800 persons.
In 2004, the web site of the theater listed the Executive Committee as follows: President, Charlie Skelton; Vice President, Alma Schuerer; Secretary, Jim Coakley; Treasurer, Gil Thivener. The web site listed the following board members: Alma Schuerer, Jim Coakley, Jimmy Trapeo, Jack Mariano, Chaz Bender, and Kathy Bram. These positions were also listed: Box Office Manager, Charlie Skelton; Concessions, Jim Trapeo; Usher Chairman, Bobbie Valentine; Volunteer Chairman, Marie Skelton; Display Boxes, Jodie Lamb.