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The Beacham Theatre, built in 1921, played an important role in the music and entertainment history of Orlando. From vaudeville to electronic dance music, this theatre has served as a gathering spot for movie-goers, music lovers, and performers to gather for nearly a century. Owing to its long history, the building was granted local landmark status in 1987.

  • View of Beacham Theater in 1921. The Beacham hosted vaudeville acts from 1921 to 1936, when it switched to showing first-run movies.
  • San Juan Hotel and Beacham Theatre in Orlando, c. 1923. Today the Beacham operates as a concert venue.
Braxton Beacham Sr., who served as Mayor of Orlando in 1907, built the Beacham Theatre in 1921. A prison once stood on the property upon which the building was constructed, and the violent history of the site has resulted in rumors that the property is haunted. The theatre opened with Norma Talmadge's The Wonderful Thing, a Pathé News newsreel, and Buster Keaton's The Boat on December 9th. The Beacham was Orlando's premier vaudeville and movie house and, for a time, the only independent movie theatre in Orlando.

Beacham Theatre was part of what vaudeville performers referred to as the the "Straw Hat Circuit," their term for the Florida and Orlando area. A pipe organ built by the Austin Organ Company accompanied the silent films and vaudeville performances. It also boasted innovative movie equipment, introducing Vitaphone and Movietone "talkie" technology in 1928. By 1933, interest in vaudeville had waned, and such performances ceased to be held there.

After a bitter ownership dispute and legal battle, the Beacham Theatre reopened in 1933 as a venue for movies, raffles, and radio performances. During this period, referred to as the "First Run Movie Era," the theatre was witness to many events of historical importance. These included technological improvements (such as the introduction of CinemaScope and Cinerama), Civil Rights protests in the 1960s (the theater was segregated until 1965), and open forum meetings by the Orlando Chamber of Commerce.

In the 1970s, Beacham Theatre suffered from disrepair and declining audiences, symptomatic of the urban decay plaguing the Orlando area. The building was sold to the owners of The Great Southern Music Hall in 1976, ushering in the era of live performances ranging from concerts, to laser light shows, to dinner theater. Since 1988, the Beacham Theatre has been used as a location for a series of nightclubs and concert venues. During Orlando's "Summer of Love" (1991 to 1992), performances at the Beacham jump-started interest in electronic dance music and the subculture surrounding it. Shows at the Beacham are also credited with inspiring the "Orlando Sound" genre known as Florida breaks.

Since its construction, the building has undergone numerous renovations, going from Commerical style architecture to a combination of art-deco and Mediterranean Revival. Indeed, the Beacham's architectural history is nearly as complex and diverse as that of its entertainment history.

Today, Beacham Theatre is now known simply as "The Beacham." The building has hosted performances by many famous celebrities and features entertainment such as disc jockey acts; it plays Hip hop, Top 40, Latin music, and Reggaeton.
Dezern, Craig. "Conflict Now Playing At Beacham Owner: Destroy It -- Activists: Save It". The Orlando Sentinel. February 28, 1988.

"What You Might Not Know About Downtown Orlando." Downtown Orlando. Accessed October 27, 2016.

Moore, Ernest C. "Historic Landmarks." The Journal of Higher Education 4.9 (1933): 500. Orlando's Historic Landmarks. City of Orlando, 21 Sept. 1987. Web. 26 Oct. 2016. 

Photo: Johnvr4, via Wikimedia Commons