Lyric Theatre

819 Northwest Second Avenue, Miami

Completed in 1913, the Lyric Theater was the anchor of Miami’s Little Broadway. (Pietro/

Owned and operated by Geder Walker, who migrated to South Florida from Georgia prior to 1900, the Lyric Theatre opened its doors in 1913. During its infancy, the 400-seat theater was once described as “possibly the most beautiful and costly playhouse owned by Colored people in all the Southland.” Operating as a theater until 1959, visiting luminaries included Mary McLeod Bethune, Ethel Waters, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on January 4, 1989, the lone surviving building in a community once known as “Little Broadway” and currently facing gentrification, was rehabilitated and opened its doors back to the public in 2000. Now Miami’s oldest theater, the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex, also houses an African-American research and welcome center.

Manhattan Casino

642 22nd St S, St. Petersburg

According to Deuces Live executive director, “It was once said that one could live their whole life on the Deuces (22nd Street South) — born at Mercy Hospital and celebrating your homecoming at Sanchez Funeral Home. There were once more than 100 businesses on the Deuces, so engagement outside of its boundaries was not really necessary.” In 2001, it was designated as a part of the Florida Main Street program, a rare feat for historic African-American districts in the state.

Nicknamed “The Home of Happy Feet,” the Manhattan Casino was the heart and soul of the Deuces. Developed by local black entrepreneur Elder Jordan, the Manhattan operated from 1925 until 1968. Both white and black music lovers went to the Manhattan to see the likes of Fats Waller, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughn, Fats Domino, and the Ink Spots. Recently restored by the City of St. Petersburg, the venue lives on as a mixed-use facility anchored by a jazz restaurant and special event space.

Ritz Theatre

829 North Davis Street, Jacksonville

A look at the Ritz Theatre.

The Ritz is where I had the opportunity to see one of Bobby Blue Bland’s (one of my dad’s favorites) last live performances. Home to the country’s largest concentration of Gullah Geechee descendants, Jacksonville emerged as Florida’s premier Chitlin’ Circuit destination during the formative years of vaudeville, ragtime, jazz, and blues. In September of 1929, Neil Witschen opened the Ritz Theater within walking distance of the site where the first documented live performance of the blues in the country took place in 1910. Designed in the Art Deco style by local architect Jefferson Powell, the 970-seat theatre quickly became LaVilla’s primary Chitlin Circuit performance venue. After the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Ritz declined along with the community around it and closed. As a part of Mayor Ed Austin’s River City Renaissance Plan, the theatre was partially razed and rebuilt into a new theatre and black history museum in 1999.

Dating back to 1929, the Ritz Theatre was a major Chitlin Circuit venue in Jacksonville.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at