Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Historical marker describes former 'Hub of the Brewton Community'

'Ritz Theatre' marker in Brewton, Ala. 
This week’s featured historical marker is the “RITZ THEATRE” marker in Escambia County, Ala. This marker is located on the west corner of St. Nicholas Ave. and St. Joseph Avenue in Brewton, Ala., near the entrance to Jennings Park.

This marker was erected by the Alabama Historical Association in 1996. There’s text on both sides of the marker, but both sides are the same. What follows in the complete text from the marker:

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“RITZ THEATRE: The Ritz Theatre opened its doors on this site September 14, 1936 and for more than fifty (50) years prided itself as the ‘Hub of the Brewton Community.’ Between its first feature, ‘YOURS FOR THE ASKING’ and its last ‘CROCODILE DUNDEE,’ shown January 22, 1987, the Ritz served as stage for fashion shows, beauty pageants, dances and various other community events. Stars of the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ and ‘Hollywood’ made live appearances at the Ritz. The Ritz was the community’s prime source for reliable news from the battle front during World War II. With a seating capacity for 761, the Ritz was the place to be on Saturday afternoon for generations of children. This legacy of the Ritz Theatre has been perpetuated with the construction of this community message center in March 1996.”

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I passed through Brewton a number of times as a child, and I can vaguely remember seeing the old theatre building when it was still standing. Online sources say that the City of Brewton couldn’t afford to restore the old theatre, so they demolished all of it in 1996 except for the marquee and façade, which still stand today near the historical marker described above. If memory serves me correctly, I think I also rode past this location when the theatre was actually being torn down as I somewhat recall the building in a half-demolished state.

My son and I have visited this location a few times during the past year, and he’s somewhat fascinated by the idea that a big, old theatre building once occupied the site. He usually asks a lot of questions as he tries to wrap his mind about the idea of a big movie house in the days before Red Box and NetFlix. I somewhat regret that even though I’m plenty old enough, I never visited the Ritz to see a movie while it was in operation.

Despite its age, the Ritz wasn’t the oldest theatre in Escambia County, Ala. That distinction falls to the Jackson Theatre in the nearby town of Flomaton, Ala. Jackson Theatre was constructed in 1926, about a decade before the Ritz. Also, while its used for something else nowadays, the Jackson Theatre building is still standing in downtown Flomaton. My son and I paid a visit to Jackson Theatre a couple of weeks ago while geocaching.

In the end, visit this site next Wednesday to learn about another historical marker. I’m also taking suggestions from the reading audience, so if you know of an interesting historical marker that you’d like me to feature, let me know in the comments section below. 

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