Does this Murray Hill building look familiar to you? It now houses Jones College, sporting a makeover from some years back. This site, though, used to draw an entirely different clientele. Whereas the current occupant furnishes opportunities for real life, the previous occupant offered escapes to fantasy worlds. The structure once contained the Edgewood Theater, a fondly remembered cinematic mecca. After it opened in 1947, it attracted patrons from Murray Hill, Riverside, Avondale, and other Westside neighborhoods. The old theater building sits west of the intersection of Edgewood Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard. Long gone is the once-familiar marquee.
What was playing on October 27, 1948, when this photo was snapped? One offering was a thirteen-year-old epic entitled “The Crusades,” starring Loretta Young and directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The other flick was a new drama called “Mickey,” featuring Lois Butler and George Kelly. It told about a rebellious teenage girl who wore casual clothes at formal parties and tried to join an all-male baseball team. Golly gee, if only our teen problems were so tame nowadays…
The Edgewood photo would have brought back special memories for two former Jax residents, the parents of John Dixon. Why is this? His folks first met at the Edgewood in 1948! As Mr. Dixon explained to JacksonvilleStory.com, “Dad was… a Navy man, stationed at NAS Jacksonville and later at Cecil Field. Mom was visiting her sister (who lived, I believe, in the Riverside section). My uncle was a officer. Mom didn’t want to go to the movies that night, but a John Wayne movie was playing. She was at the concession stand, purchasing something, when she found she didn’t have any money. Dad was behind her and paid for her. So it began.” John Dixon lived with his family in the River City over forty years ago. His parents have since passed away, and he is now a businessman in Miami.
“ELVIS, THE PELVIS” — When John Dixon and his sister were children, the Edgewood Theater seemed like “a paradise” to them. Mr. Dixon wrote, “You know, it’s funny: I’ve lived all over, yet my fondest memories are of Jacksonville… The first time I was in Jacksonville since I left in 1961 was in 1989… When I saw the Edgewood was gone, my kids couldn’t believe how I acted. I remember going in the summer to cartoon shows, usually hosted by ‘Ranger Hal’ from Channel 4. Also, I still have (if I can find it) a postcard from the Edgewood that was sent as a birthday greeting, along with a free ticket to a western double. Mom liked the Edgewood because it had a family atmosphere with Disney movies and such… We lived in Murray Hill (at 1158 Murray Hill Drive), then moved to Cedar Hills. We would bypass all to go to the Edgewood. My sister and I would go to a show, and, after it was over, we would go to the drugstore across the street for a sundae. Also, there was a paint/hardware store next to the theater. What fascinated me was that they had a paint can shaker in the window named ‘Elvis.'”
Wow, that’s a neat memory! Because of Presley’s River City visits, the singer had made residents quite aware of his hip gyrating performances.
G-RATED — Parents didn’t have to worry: The Edgewood Theater featured light, family-friendly fare. Typical was Disney’s “Million Dollar Duck,” with Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan. In earlier years, moviegoers would see something like “Three Coins in a Fountain,” in which a trio of young American women wish for the man of their dreams after throwing change into Rome’s magnificent Trevi Fountain. This 1954 romantic comedy starred Clifton Webb and Dorothy McGuire. Another Edgewood offering was the old safari adventure from 1931, “Trader Horn,” featuring Harry Carey in the title role and Edwina Booth as Nina Trent, the White Goddess. (Interestingly, the actress caught a neurological disorder in Africa while filming this picture, the first narrative film to be shot in the Dark Continent. This forced an end to her career, even though she did settle out of court with the studio.)
Almost every Saturday morning, the Edgewood Theater would erupt with laughter, squeals, and screams. Its kiddy matinee offered tons of entertainment for just 14 cents (or roughly 85 cents in current currency). Beginning at about 9 a.m., youngsters enjoyed several cartoons, assorted short films, a live stage show (perhaps starring a Duncan yo-yo champ), and a full-length cowboy flick. Saturday cinematic companions included Gene Autry, Red Ryder, and the Durango Kid. After the matinee’s conclusion, the really crafty kids would try to hide well enough to sneak into the afternoon double-feature.
Although some of its movies may not have been so new, the Edgewood strove to stay on the cutting edge, theater-wise. Around 50 years ago, the Edgewood claimed to be the first River City theater to provide push-back chairs, according to Bill Foley, the late, beloved Jax historian. These rocking seats allowed audience members to continue to sit while others moved by them. Mr. Foley also believed that the venue proved the first suburban theater in town to sale buttered popcorn. And as indicated by Mr. Foley, the Edgewood ranked among the first in Jax to use a soft drink dispenser. It offered three “flavors”: green, orange, and purple.
The Edgewood Theater remained in business until the mid Eighties. It still lives on, though, in the memories of many River City baby boomers.
~written by Glenn Emery