History of the Vivian Theatre, Lacoochee, Pasco County, Florida



Vivian Theatre

On July 18, 1924, the Dade City Banner reported, “Building is again booming in Lacoochee. Two new picture theaters are now going up. Both expect to be in operation in about five weeks.”

On Aug. 14, 1925, the Dade City Banner reported, “Preaching services at the Vivian theatre next Sunday. All are invited to come and bring their friends.”

The Sept 29, 1925, Banner has an advertisement for the movie Oh, Doctor! playing at the Colonial Theatre on Thursday and the Vivian Theatre on Friday.

On April 1, 1928, the Tampa Morning Tribune reported, “Miss Elanore Harshbarger, high school pupil, is recovering in a local hospital from injuries suffered in an accident this week. Miss Harshbarger was on her way to Lacoochee, where she is pianist at the moving picture show, and in attempting to close the door of the car in which she was riding, was thrown to the street.” Eleanor Harshbarger graduated from PHS in 1928.

The last advertisement for the theater in the Banner seems to be on Feb. 12, 1959.

New Play House Opened in Lacoochee (1924)

This article appeared in the Dade City Banner on Aug. 8, 1924.

Lacoochee’s first moving picture theater opened its doors for the first time last Thursday evening to audiences which tested its capacity to the utmost. The theater is located on the National Highway just east of the Seaboard crossing. It is an attractive looking structure with seating accommodations on the first floor for about 200 while a gallery, reserved for colored patrons, seats 100 more. Manager May is showing all high class pictures and the latest releases and gives his programs Monday, Wednesday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, the Sunday performances closing at 7 p.m. so as not to interfere with church services. A large battery of electric fans make the new play house one of the most comfortable places in town this warm weather.

Dade City Banner, Aug. 8, 1924

Gaskins Operating Lacoochee Theatre (1924)

This article appeared in the Dade City Banner on Oct. 3, 1924.

Vivian Gaskin, proprietor of the Colonial theater in Dade City, has taken charge of what has been known as May’s theater in Lacoochee and will operate it in connection with his moving picture house here. The arrangements were made this week and the first show in the new theater was given Wednesday night. Mr. Gaskin will run the latest and best pictures obtainable in both places, giving a one night run in each place.

The May’s theater in Lacoochee opened some time ago and was quite successful. A few weeks ago, however, it changed hands but for some reason the new management were unable to make it go successfully and Mr. Gaskin seized the opportunity to extend his business and at the same time give the people of Lacoochee the best of film entertainment. He has been quite busy up there and in making a number of adjustments to the projecting machines which will result in clearer and better pictures being thrown on the screen, and in every respect will operate a first class moving picture show.

Mr. Gaskin has been proprietor of the Colonial Theater in Dade City for the past two years. During that time he has spared no pains to improve the service in every way and as a result has been giving service that equals in nearly every respect that found in the large theaters of the big cities. His pictures have all been of the first quality and, with the exception of certain masterpieces which have merited return engagements, have been first runs. In fact, so desirous has he been to give his patrons the best that could be obtained that he has frequently shown films here before they were exhibited in Jacksonville, Tampa and others of the large cities of this state.

In giving the same high class service at Lacoochee there is no doubt but what he will build up a large clientele of lovers of the films. He will have personal charge of the Lacoochee project while the Colonial will be capably managed by Mrs. Gaskin.

Vivian Theatre Was Town Mainstay


This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune, date unknown.

The 1920s were bustling years in Lacoochee. The Cummer family had established its modern, electric cypress sawmill and box factory in 1922. After Cummer Sons Cypress Co. opened, Lacoochee quickly grew.

Its downtown boasted a two-story, 30-room hotel, four churches, two bakeries, two drug stores, three garages, two service stations, two department stores, three barber shops, several restaurants, two doctors, two train depots, a constable and more than 1,000 registered voters.

There wasn’t much in the way of entertainment, though.

Enter Vivian Gaskins.

His widow, Iris Gaskins, recalls her late husband’s experience running the Crescent Theatre in Dade City.

Built in 1926, the Crescent had 900 seats and was planned to be part of a major development called Crescent Park that would include a 100-room hotel.

The collapse of the Florida real estate boom put an end to the development.

The theatre continued to be the center of social activity in Dade City.

Vivian Gaskins decided to open a theatre in Lacoochee in the late 1920s.

Gaskins, born at the pioneer community of Gaskins Settlement near what later became San Antonio, was older than his future wife, who joked that doctors said his parents must have heard the Johnny Cash song about a “Boy Named Sue” when they named him Vivian.

But being named Vivian didn’t intimidate him. He named his business “The Vivian Theatre,” and it was a mainstay in Lacoochee for nearly four decades.

“It was the only place we had to go,” said Gaskins, the former Iris Thompson, a native of Lacoochee who grew up watching movies at the Vivian.

In early days it was a silent picture show with music played by area musicians, including O. L. Dayton and his band, Gaskins said.

“Talkies” took over the screen in the 1930s. One of the favorites was “The Wizard of Oz,” a 1939 hit that remains a favorite today.

A young Caroline Mickler begged her mother to go when it came to Lacoochee in the summer of 1945. Her brother, Howell, and his girlfriend agreed to take the youngster.

“She cried to go see ‘Wizard of Oz,’” her son Tracy Thompson recalls his mother telling him. But when the witch jumped out, “she cried to go home.”

The customary routine for Sunday afternoons was to go to the movie theatre and then to “Mr. Abe’s” for chop suey and “ice cream with some kind of nuts on it,” said Thompson, nephew of Iris and Vivian Thompson.

Abe’s Drug Store was owned by the father of Lorise and the late Lewis Abraham. It was a popular Lacoochee gathering place for years.

Iris Thompson started working at The Vivian Theatre in 1942 when she was 18. She sold tickets for 9 cents apiece.

The theatre, which seated between 150 and 200, was segregated in those days, and she sold tickets to black patrons from a separate window for seating upstairs.

It wasn’t long before Iris Thompson and Vivian Gaskins were married, and the two continued to run the theatre.

Iris continued to sell tickets, and Vivian collected the passes and tried to keep people quiet, she said. “He also patrolled so nobody made out.”

The concession stand offered water and popcorn. Customers would get a cup and there was a step at the water fountain where they could get their own water, Gaskins said.

The theatre featured a cartoon, serial and feature — all running twice daily.

Sometimes the Gaskinses would drive the movies to Tampa to swap out for new films. Other times the films would be dropped off at their house at midnight, she said.

On Saturday nights, parents would drop their children off at the theatre and leave, Gaskins remembers. She and Vivian would take those children home and wait in their car — sometimes as late as 2 a.m. — until the parents got home, she said. “He [Vivian] wasn’t going to just let them off.”

Iris Gaskins has a lot of stories about the theatre patrons, most she’d known all her life. There was the one woman who would fidget with her pocketbook during the movies and yell out at the Western such things as “Look out Jesse, he’s got a gun,” when someone was sneaking up on Jesse James.

And the first night they had gotten a big new screen, one of the boys came and shot a staple into it. She went around and found out who did it, although his mother insisted her son wouldn’t do something like that.

The theatre was on County Road 575 near the railroad tracks on the main stretch of downtown Lacoochee. The sound of the train passing by didn’t interrupt the film, but when a train hit a car, the theatre emptied.

During World War II, German prisoners of war were held at camps in Dade City, and some worked at the sawmill. The Cummer family arranged for the POWs to see a movie at 10 a.m. each Sunday, Gaskins said.

One day, though, during the newsreel, there was Adolf Hitler on the screen, “They all stood up and saluted. So we had to stop that,” she said.

In 1959, the mill closed because of a lack of timber. Lacoochee and The Vivian began to decline.

“Whenever the mill closed, we tried to run it [the theatre] and couldn’t,” Gaskins said. “There wasn’t any money up there.”

Without fanfare, The Vivian Theatre closed in 1959. Ticket prices at that time were 40 cents for adults and ten cents for children.

The Gaskinses sold the theatre to a convenience store that tore down the two-story structure.

Gaskins still watches old movies as they bring back memories, she said. “I’d like to do that all over again.”

Even after watching hundreds, maybe thousands, of movies, her favorite still is the 1942 classic “Casablanca.”

By the end of World War II, traffic patterns in Dade City had changed and the Crescent Theatre, located on the once main thoroughfare of Main Street, also closed. The owner, Floyd Theaters, shifted its movie house to a location on Seventh Street and Church Avenue where Pasco Theatre opened in late 1948. Pasco Theatre continued to thrive until 1999 when the property was sold. Despite protests from local residents wanting to preserve the historic landmark, the art deco structure was destroyed to make room for a bank building.

The Crescent Theatre was sold in 1950 to a Buick dealership and later housed the library for East Coast University when it operated here form 1969 to 1971. It then stood vacant for years before a push to restore the old building for a community theatre.

With the structure too badly deteriorated and a lack of funding, help was received from Community Aging and Retirement Services.

The theatre facade was saved and the new structure, opened last year as a senior center, is named the CARES Crescent Enrichment Center. Hopes are to build an adjacent structure for a community theatre.

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