Ritz Theatre and Museum
The Ritz Theater is in a traditionally black commercial district in the La Villa neighborhood. This Art Deco style building built in 1929 housed a cinema, shops and offices. The black community made the Ritz and the surrounding buildings into an arts, entertainment, and shopping area. The original Ritz Theater structure was demolished but, the decorative corner and sign were incorporated into the new Ritz Theatre and La Villa Museum. Inside the La Villa Museum, the African American history exhibit tells the story of everyday life in northeast Florida. The theater presents African American shows and educational performances.
Backstory and Context
The Ritz Theatre and Museum takes one back in time to experience the purpose and motivation of the rise of the African American community with their historical exhibits as well as music, productions, dance, and movies. There was an exciting array of culture and activity from 1921 to 1971 in what is now known as LaVilla, but once recognized as the “Harlem of the South” that is now the Ritz Theatre and Museum.
It is a place that not only preserves the past history of the African American culture of the Jacksonville area, but it also educates the present of what once was. It educates one on the hardships that the African Americans encountered during the 20’s throughout the 70’s such as segregation. It preserves not only the history but it entertains and preserves the “African American artistic culture”.
Through reproduction of events through show and exhibits one can reflect and feel the lives of the African American community and culture from the past where many accomplishments were made against racism and inequality. The Ritz conserves and supports the black culture and heritage of the community and past era. It also gives one the opportunity to experience the stories of Jacksonville what it impacted during the time of segregation and the civil rights movement.
It consists of 11,000 square feet museum and presents a collection of historical artifacts, documents and paraphernalia from that era. The programs,photos, artifacts, and events continue to grow with the help of the community and donations made allowing one to experience local history. It also has a theatre that seats around 426 guests for things such as shows, productions, and movies. It is known as the “center of African American culture in Florida.” At the museum, you can find artifacts or pictures involving Ax Handle Saturday, a significant movement, along with information about Eartha and Clara White, important humanitarian figures.
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