Movies are a part of the thread of our lives. Many remember the first time that they saw a classic film. People like to go to the movies to experience them the way that their creators intended to be seen at the movie theater because of the special quality associated with the dark room, large screen, the wonderful sound, and the smell of popcorn.
It seems that the movie theater or cinema is the place to shut out the world for around two hours and slip into a new world — of light sabers and of talking lions. These wonderful places exist in Miami, but they are a dwindling breed.
Many of these movie theaters in Miami have gone into oblivion, but others have been repurposed serving a variety of other uses from presenting classic cinema to live theater, from night clubs to recital halls. In this series we look at some of the old movie houses that have found new purposes.
“It’s like a phoenix that comes back from the ashes of nature’s devastation, reemerging even stronger,” said Yvonne C Knowles, Homestead Main Street director, when asked about the Seminole Theatre.
The theater, oldest in the Tri-County area, has survived hurricanes, financial troubles and an incredible fire that resulted in a total loss.
According to its website, the Seminole Theatre in Homestead had an original history of constant movement. The theateroriginally was called the AirDome Theatre and was created in 1917. Then it was transported from Miami to Homestead to a property on S. Dixie Highway. It later was moved to Downtown Homestead on Krome Avenue where it stands now and renamed the Seminole Theatre. It had its opening night there in 1920.
Mickey Mcguire, the theater’s current director, said it closed in 1940 when destroyed by a fire that consumed all but the walls. It reopened in December of that same year, and continued as a moviehouse until 1979 when it closed due to financial trouble. It reopened in 2015 as a cultural arts center after the city and a private firm contributed $5 million for its restoration with a bond.
Knowles worked on the Historic Preservation Board in 2007 when the theater was applying for insertion into the National Register of Historic Places. The application was approved as
she fought on behalf of the city before the National Board. As a result of that effort the revitalization of Downtown Homestead began, including the theater which is its most important part.
“It’s the real jewel in our downtown,” Knowles said.
When asked what it was like to get the theater on the bond referendum, she said that it was door-to-door process. In 2014, the city issued the bond of $5 million to bring back the theater and other parts of Downtown.
“The faith in the community in the Downtown was really heartwarming because they wanted to see it succeed,” she said.
The bond included money set aside for the police station. She believed initially that the police station would receive approval but not the theater. She need not have worried.
“We’ve had extraordinary success,” she said.
Now, the cinema is a Cultural Arts Center, home for musical arts, visual arts and theater productions. The theater has an expansive lobby area containing a concession stand and bar. There are walls graced by paintings from local artists. These artists are chosen from among the best of Homestead as well as the county.
The artists are rotated every two months, McGuire explained. They are provided with a gallery night and their work is placed on the walls while the theater is conducting its live performances. It is called the Artists in the Spotlight Program.
Music also is featured at the reconstructed theater. The Mersey Beatles are scheduled at the Seminole Theatre on Oct. 4.
“We received a grant to redo our sound and lighting systems so we probably have the best sound and lighting system in the Tri-County area,” McGuire said. “We get a lot of ‘rock’ shows.”
The last ‘rock’ show was Martin Barre who got together with two of the original members of Jethro Tull for a sold-out crowd at the theater.
The theater has a comfortable fabric upholstery seats. There’s ample room in the aisles for traffic and there is a large area in the second floor balcony which is perfect for enjoying the night and spending time with friends. The mezzanine has a lovely view of the stage. The facility is ADA compliant and has ample space for people using mobility aids.
The theater has three stories to use as for the productions and spacious dressing rooms for the talent and practice rooms for dancers one of which has a three-inch suspended dance floor so that the dancers do not destroy their joints in practice.
Although it was born for the film world, it has been revitalized as a warm place for audience and artist to share in the tender and exciting beauty of live performance art.
More information can be found at www.seminoletheatre.org.