Home' The River Weekly News : RWN 080715 Contents Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
Showtime In The Patio
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
Acentury ago, the “moving picture” theater pictured here
was, for a brief time, the only one in town.
Shown in the historic photo is the Omar Theatre,
circa late 1920s.
The theater had started life as the Court Photo Play The-
atre, one of four names it would have over its approximate
It opened in 1913-1914 as a silent-movie theater in Tonneli-
er Court, which is today’s Patio de Leon. The seating capacity
was to be 450 to 500. Early ads promised “clear white light
From its opening, it featured a mix of live and film entertainment: vaudeville-
type acts, feature-length films, newsreels and local live productions.
The Court opened just before the town’s first movie theater, the Grand, closed.
Originally called the Royal Palm, it had opened in the Langford Building in 1908.
The legacy of that first theater continued when the Arcade Theatre opened
circa 1916. But in the interim, the Court was the only movie venue in town.
By the late 1920s, the “moving picture,” as it was called, was firmly established
as mass entertainment. By then, there were several downtown theaters, as well as
one in East Fort Myers and one in the black neighborhood on Cranford Avenue,
for it was a time of racial segregation.
So what could a movie-goer expect to see at the Omar about the time the his-
toric photo was taken?
In late May 1926, the new romantic drama Exquisite Sinner was playing, in
which Myrna Loy starred in one of her earliest roles as the Living Statue.
In February 1927, drama-lovers could attend the Little Theater League’s produc-
tion of Her Indiscretion, in which William G. “Bill” Colvin played a feature role as
a retired sea captain, sporting a full beard he grew just for the part.
In his year’s residence in Fort Myers, Colvin had been very active with the
league as a producer, director and actor, drawing on his experience in the motion-
The Court Theatre did not gain the Moorish architectural features so noticeable
in the historic photo until it was sold in 1924 and redeveloped the following year
by George R. Sims.
He renamed it Patio de Leon and transformed it with the Mediterranean Reviv-
alist style so popular in boom-time South Florida.
The theater’s new name, the Omar, reflected the patio’s exotic flourishes, such
as ornately tiled arches, vividly colored medallions and retreating entrances.
In subsequent years, the movie house was renamed the Ritz. Finally, it became
the Fort Myers Little Theatre and was home to the town’s live theater company of
The stylish building was demolished in the 1960s and today the site is a parking
On the spot where a fountain (left) stood almost a century ago, a refurbished
one stands today.
Stroll through Patio de Leon and envision the movie theater that entertained
Fort Myers a century ago.
Then visit the Southwest Florida Museum of History at 2031 Jackson Street to
learn more about the many movie theaters that sprang up in the early 20th cen-
Call 321-7430 for information, or go to museumofhistory.org. Hours are 10
a.m . to 5 p.m ., Tuesday through Saturday.
Continue your history adventure at the Southwest Florida Historical Society’s
research center at 10091 McGregor Boulevard on the campus of the Lee County
Alliance for the Arts.
The all-volunteer non-profit organization is open Wednesday and Saturday
between 9 a.m. and noon and Wednesday 4 to 7 p.m. Call 939-4044 or visit swfl-
historicalsociety.org for more information.
Sources: The Archives of the Southwest Florida Historical Society, The Fort
Myers Press, and The Fort Myers Tropical News.
THE RIVER - AUGUST 7, 2015
The River Weekly News will correct factual errors or matters of emphasis and interpretation that appear in news stories.
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and Ken Rasi
Gerri Reaves, Ph D
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Marion Hauser, MS, RD
Ross Hauser, MD
Capt. Matt Mitchell
Cynthia A. Williams
In the late 1920s, the Moorish-style Omar Theatre in Patio de Leon offered first-run motion
pictures, newsreels and live productions. The barber pole (right) marks the location of the
OK Barber Shop. Today, that space is part of a restaurant.
photo courtesy of Southwest Florida Museum of History
The theater, which had four names over a half-century, was demolished in the 1960s. The
roof lines of the Lee County Courthouse, the courthouse annex, and the justice center are
visible in the distance.
photo by Gerri Reaves
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