The Williamson Theatre was built in 1925 Vaudeville Theatre was home to live musical performances including a 50 man Orchestra, silent movies known back in the day as “talkies”, black and white film, live theatre performances, and concerts of all levels.
As the roaring 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s brought change, it also brought the movie industry to Polk County. Many movies were shot in Polk County, several at Winter Haven’s own; Cypress Gardens. “EASY TO LOVE” staring Esther Williams, made its debut here at The Ritz and the film industry came alive on the stage. The movies, live concerts, and theatre performances continued at the Theatre well into the 1960’s and 70’s.
As the communities and surrounding areas began to grow and change, so did a need for The Ritz Theatre to take on a new face. The movie houses were no longer viable; the theatre went dark. In the 1980’s the Theatre opened as a Teen Night Club. As you would expect, that life span was short lived. The Theatre was closed and boarded up.
In 1996 a group of concerned citizens joined forces and formed the Ritz Theatre 100, Inc. with one goal and one goal only “to save The Ritz”.
After 16 years, over 83,115 volunteer hours, and clearing many hurdles, the facility was restored to its original beauty. There was a soft re-opening in 2011 with the return of hometown favorite, Jim Stafford. Jim took the stage to a “sold out crowd” and the memories began again for this grand ole diamond in the rough.
The fundraising effort took shape and the restoration was made to the facility with improvements totaling 2.4 million. A remaining balance of $850,000 is owed and needs to be raised.
The Board of Directors took evasive action to insure the facility would never fall into harm’s way again and invested in placing the historical structure on the National Registry for Historical Places. This secured that future generations would enjoy this historical icon of a venue for today's youth, and their children and grandchildren.
Today, the facility is making a difference in the community, soon to host the return of movies and much more…
The Lola Mann Lobby demonstrates those who have believed in the project and donated a minimum of $1,000 to have their name engraved on a STAR and permanently installed throughout the facility. When you visit the Ritz, be sure to look around to see if you know one of those names listed in the Lola Mann Lobby or the Main Auditorium.
Please consider being a part of this historically significant landmark in downtown Winter Haven; volunteer, attend an event, donate your time or money, MAKE A DIFFERENCE.