The roaring twenties was a period of sustained economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States. The era saw the significant use of modern inventions such as automobiles, telephones, motion pictures, radio, electricity, air conditioning, and aviation. It was also when Polk Theatre had its grand opening and made history in Lakeland, Florida.
Italian-born architect, J.E. Casale, designed the Polk Theatre to be a 2,000+ seat vaudeville-style movie palace. Using inspiration from his home country, he wanted to recreate the feeling of a Mediterranean village. The Polk Theatre provided people with an experience outside of the day-to-day, transporting them to the landscapes of Italy upon entering the atmospheric theatre.
The Polk Theatre was architecturally constructed to have Italianate walls with niches, chandeliers, and faux balconies complete with windows that enable moviegoer’s eyes to be directly drawn toward the stage. Baroque-tiled staircases led to brass banded terrazzo floors in the mezzanine lobby, decorated with twisted columns, as well as elusive cornice and molding work. The most stunning and distinct architectural design aspect of Casale’s work was the ceiling composed of twinkling stars that can be lit to simulate a sunrise or sunset.
The Polk Theatre has had many memorable moments, such as famous musician Elvis Presley performing on its stage in 1956; however, by 1957, “movie attendance had dropped 50 percent from its historically high mid-1940’s level.” During this time, theaters across the nation began to close due to the convenience of entertainment from home televisions. Though the Polk survived for three decades, after the end of World War II, its shine began to fade.
Like in the 1950s, cinema attendance has continued to decrease because of advancements in technology. Though it is always nice to watch a movie on Netflix in the comfort in your home, there is so much charm in purchasing a movie ticket and watching a full-screen film with an audience, especially in an Italian Renaissance-style theatre. A non-profit group thought the same in 1982, and borrowed money, secured a grant from the state, and then purchased the theatre for $300,000 to save the Polk from shutting down.
Fast forward to today, and the Polk Theatre may seem fairly standard at first glance. However, as you observe the iconic marquee sign displaying the slogan, “Where historic meets cutting edge,” you’re instantly reminded that this isn’t your standard theatre. The Polk Theatre reminds every moviegoer of its rich history. For that reason, the Polk Theatre has since been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior, ensuring its structural survival.
The majority of people who enter the Polk Theatre are blasted to the past and have captured this evocative feeling by “Snapping” shots for social media. Interested in visiting? Be sure to experience this unique venue every weekend when the Polk Theatre hosts film showings, Friday - Sunday. Check their Calendar of Events when you're in town.
With that in mind, what historical building has effortlessly made you awestruck? Is historical preservation important in your city and are efforts being made? Share your thoughts and you city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Simon Groneberg. Data linked to sources.