SUNRISE: A GLORY THAT WAS
Miami Herald, The (FL) - September 25, 1983
Author: MARY JO TIERNEY Herald Staff Writer
The message on the marquee at the Sunrise movie theater is something no one wanted to see.
It says "Closed for Refurbishing," but there's not much action inside the 60-year-old downtown movie house.
"We're not quite sure what we're going to do with it. We have to have our architects take a look at it and analyze the situation," said Tommy Hyde, vice president of Kent Theaters, which has rented the building from the Koblegard family for more than 20 years.
Not many people got sentimental when the old Fort Pierce Hotel was torn down last month. But the Sunrise movie theater -- now that's something else.
It's where St. Lucie County Judge E.P. DeFriest first saw Tom Mix on his white horse. "I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. The most disappointing thing that happened to me was not having a dime and having to miss one of those serials on Saturday afternoon," he said.
The theater is where A.E. (Beanie) Backus started his artistic career. Backus made the posters of the upcoming attractions. He was paid $14 a week, but also got to see some of the "big shots" who came to the Sunrise. And he said there were some big shots.
Sally Rand was there, doing her fan dance, and Olson and Johnson's Hellzapoppin rolled them in the aisles. There was vaudeville and the Saturday morning Mickey Mouse clubs, followed by a double feature.
But the biggest attraction was Wednesday night. That was bank night. "A drum majorette would pick a number out of a bowl and the winner would get a couple hundred dollars, or some dishes or furniture. The place was packed. Everyone in town would be there," said Circuit Court Judge Philip Nourse.
Nourse was an usher, making $3 a week "working every night of the week and on weekends." But he said the the job did have its fringe benefits. "All the pretty girls were there on Saturday afternoon."
For decades,the Sunrise theater was a favorite rendezvous spot for teenagers. It was big and dark enough for some discreet smooching, just as long as they stayed out of the balcony.
The balcony was reserved for the blacks, who until the late 1950s, were not permitted to sit in the main theater.
The Sunrise was once the biggest theater between Jacksonville and Miami. For decades it was the only theater in Fort Pierce. Now there's the Village in Searstown with its six theaters and the Cinema on South U.S 1 with its two screens. But most serious moviegoers said the Sunrise is still the best place in town to watch a film.
The screen is mammoth compared to the others and the theater is big enough to have a smoking section.
But the Sunrise has a lot of overhead and no longer draws enough of a crowd to fill all of those seats.
"The public just doesn't realize what's involved in running a theater like that," Hyde said.
He said Kent theaters could give up their lease to the Koblegards, but no decision has been made.
R.N. (Koby) Koblegard, whose father and grandfather both ran the Sunrise, said he isn't sure what the family would do if Kent decided to pull out.
"I guess we could put something else in there or renovate it. Or maybe we could tear it down and start all over ... It's just not a moneymaker anymore," he said.
Nourse said he may have the answer. "Tell them to have the bank nights again," he said. "They were always the talk of the town."