Locals Protest the Demolition of Beloved Theater

By Jeanny Lavache

After being open for 56 years, Ada Smith and over a hundred locals are grief stricken to see The Palace Theater die.

The Palace Theater, in Cross City in Dixie County, opened in 1960 and has become a local landmark.

The theater has been sold by its owner, Carmike Cinemas, to Community National Bank of Zephyrhills. The theater is closed and will be demolished with plans to open the new bank early next year. Demolition begins Monday.

Locals protested the demolition of the beloved theater, but the last showing, Tower Heist, was at 9:30 on Thursday night.

Rodney Foonman, city manager, relayed a message from the Zephyrhills Bank to theater supports saying a last ditch effort to save the building would cost nearly $700,000. Foonman said the city would not be part of the purchase effort.

“This would all involve private parties,” Foonman said.

Foonman praised the efforts of the save the-theater movement and “the spirit they showed in battling to the end.”

Eileen Herman, a leader in the fight to save the building, conceded the price put it out of reach.

Ada Smith, theater manager, has been working at The Palace Theater since 1976. Her son, Randell Smith, practically grew up at the theater where she toted the now 33-year old around her hip while she ran the concession stands.

Smith let the neon array of lights along the building’s façade burn all night long after the crowd had left. The neon marquis outside glowed reading “closed.” Patrons had snapped “farewell” pictures in front of the building on Thursday.

On the night of the final showing the projector clicked promptly at 9:30 with previews for films that would never come to The Palace Theater. After the movie ended City Commissioner, Scott Black, and his wife Laura were among the last to leave. They left in silence and the next day he said the moment was too powerful for him to talk about at the time.

“That’s always been our night out,” Black said. “I just don’t want to keep losing the things that make Cross City home, the kinds of things that make us special.”

James Marow had orders from Smith to sweep the floor. He cleaned up the last of the soda cups and popcorn boxes, the same job he had been doing for 25 years even though it obviously didn’t matter. Still Marow didn’t argue with his longtime boss.

“Miss Ada told me to,” Marow said.

The last of the moviegoers filtered out of the small lobby by 12:00 a.m., and Smith and her crew cleaned out the last of the remaining bits of memorabilia and emptied the candy counter.

“It shouldn’t be business as usual,” said resident Paul Wadlinger. “I’ve got two grandsons I bring here, they’ve had that taken away from them.”

Wadlinger was one of the 108 people at the last show.

Someone anonymously posted neon colored posters around town overnight after the theater closed urging residence to come to the theater parking lot at 12 p.m. today to show support for the theater. The flyers also urges people to avoid using the new bank if the theater comes down.

For locals like Melinda McCabe Norman, 47, the theater was more than just a place to go to watch a movie, it was a place that held valuable memories.

Norman taped a handwritten note to the wind of the women’s restroom addressed to the “Demolition People” saying: “I would really love to have the windows out of the women’s restroom. Thirty years ago I snuck out of this window.  I don’t have a million dollars to spend. Only a million dollars in memories.”

Norman said in the late 80s she would sneak out of the movies through the women’s restroom windows and meet up with friends in the parking lot or head over to the Royal Castle and drink root beer and smoke cigarettes. The Royal Castle across the street is also gone.

For the locals who tried so hard to keep the Palace alive seeing it go is a heart-breaking sight.

“Oh it’s sad to see all this end,” Smith said. “I just hate seeing it close, having to close it.”