History of the Ritz
LaVilla: The Harlem of the South
The quality of life and variety of theater, music and film that once existed in LaVilla earned the area the nickname 'The Harlem of the South.' Time and social events took its toll on this once thriving hub of African-American life. Today, the Ritz Theatre and LaVilla Museum pay tribute to the past while building a new tradition for the future today.
The LaVilla area was first settled in 1801 by John Jones who received a Spanish land grant. From 1861 until 1867, LaVilla was an independent muncipality. African-Americans held senior positions in the government and in the police and fire departments. LaVilla was annexed to Jacksonville in 1887 with a population of 3,000 residents. The Great Fire of 1901 began in northern LaVilla and burned most of Jacksonville, though LaVilla's business district was spared. In 1929, the Ritz movie theatre was built. In 1932, Eartha M.M. White purchasef the old Globe Theater and named it the Clara White Mission in honor of her late mother. In the 1960s and '70s, the Ritz/LaVilla business and entertainment district declined; as the walls of segregation begin to fall, many middle and upper-class African-Americans used their new found opportunities to move to other areas of the city.
In 1993, the Jacksonville City Council adopted Mayor Ed Austin's River City Renaissance plan, which includes $33 million to renovate the LaVilla and Brooklyn areas. Groundbreaking for the $4.2 million Ritz Theatre & LaVilla Museum took place in 1998. One year later, the Ritz Theatre and LaVilla Museum building was completed. The grand opening took place on Sept. 30, 1999.
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