The State Theatre; Going Back For Its Future
Preserve the Burg Newsletter
The building at 685 Central Avenue, built in 1925 as the Alexander National Bank and most recently known as the State Theatre, was designed by noted Atlanta architect Neel Reid. Its Neoclassical and Beaux Arts style was favored by bankers of the day for projecting an image of strength and security. Ironically, that image of strength was only a façade, for shortly after opening, the bank’s financier and president, Jacob Alexander, died and the bank was subsequently purchased by Fidelity National Bank and Trust in 1929. Fidelity struggled along until 1931, at which time it closed, and the building was occupied by a series of small offices until 1949, when it was converted into the State Theater. It was one of five movie houses in town until its closure in 1977. In 1991, the City Council designated it as a Local Historic Landmark. The building became a concert venue, but after decades of physical and financial decline, along with fire code violations, the State Theatre closed in 2018.
Now enters real estate broker Kevin Chadwick, owner of the largest Keller Williams franchise in Florida. When we spoke to Kevin he explained how, as a third generation St. Pete native, he loves the city and is enthusiastic about the growth and vibrancy he has seen develop over the years. He was looking for a “legacy property” for his kids, something that represented the heart of old St. Pete that he could bring back to life and that would be around for his family and community to enjoy for many years. Kevin’s search for the appropriated property was unsuccessful until a couple of developers invited him out for coffee and “tricked” him into swinging by the State Theatre for a little peek. The place was in severe disrepair. Although he had no interest in a theater related building, he saw its potential, said he would think it over, and headed off to his mom’s house for dinner.
Kevin mentioned to his mom that he had just looked over the State Theatre, which prompted her to reminisce about her high school days and how, when kids were looking for fun, they would hop on the bus and head downtown to visit the various theaters on Central Avenue. It was the State Theatre where his parents had their first date. With that bit of family history, his mom had given him his answer. The State Theater needed to be saved, and he could do it. “It was the right thing to do”, he said. “Four of the five theaters are now gone. The crime is that it’s a huge chunk of our history, and it’s just gone.” Thus, in June of 2018, he bought the building.
Kevin had no illusions as to the scope of the project. “The theater had been reduced over the last 96 years to its lowest common denominator. Its bones were broken from the inside out.” He continued, “I can’t do anything halfway – it has to be as good as it can possibly be. If you want to do something substantial, you have to pay attention – you can’t just wing it. I am fortunate to have an excellent team working with me on this project.”
As an Historical Landmark, the restoration followed City guidelines in maintaining the building’s historical integrity. “The city’s historic preservation department has been amazing to work with. They have been so helpful”, said Kevin. The historical context of the building encompasses not only the 1924 original build, but the 1950 conversion to a movie theater by local architect Archie Parish is considered historically significant, requiring that many of the theater additions, such as the balcony and a marquis, remain in the restoration. The project entailed stripping everything that was added after the 1950 conversion and carefully restoring or recreating what was original to the 1925/1950 building.
When it opens, at some pandemic-driven future date, St. Pete will again be graced with a beautifully restored concert and social venue, which has been renamed the Floridian Social Club. With a total capacity of 800, including seating for 200, the venue will be able to host not only concerts, but includes a social lounge with bar, and a potential opportunity for individuals to host events of their own. “In four years the building will be 100 years old. It’s important to me to create something special to last the next 100 years”, Kevin concluded.
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