Historic Film Studio Would Find Care in Federal Service; PRESERVATION the City Is Hoping to Give the Norman Studios to the National Park Service

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Byline: TIMOTHY J. GIBBONS

For decades, Jacksonville activists have fought to save the old Norman Studio buildings, a connection to the city's heyday as an epicenter of African-American filmmaking.

Now those dreams are moving a bit closer to reality: The city decided this week to take the first step toward transferring the historic moviemaking site to the National Park Service, a move that will save the almost-century-old site.

In coming days, Mayor John Peyton will ask the City Council to pass legislation that would begin the transfer process, which would eventually allow the federal government to pay for restoring and operating the buildings.

"I almost fainted when I heard," said Rita Reagan, education outreach director for the Norman Studios Silent Film Museum Inc., a nonprofit that fights to preserve the site. "I'm just ecstatic. This is the highest and best use."

The transfer won't happen soon: Having a donation accepted by the Park Service is a long and involved process that will stretch on for at least two years and possibly longer.

The Park Service is interested in the gift, though, said Shauna Allen, its local chief of resource stewardship. Last year, the service did a preliminary survey of the studios and came away with a recommendation for Congress to fund a more in-depth look at the old movie studios.

"It's a wonderful example of a resource that is significant in history," Allen said.

The Norman Studios were built for the Eagle Film Studios back in the days when it appeared Jacksonville might become the moviemaking town that Hollywood later became.

Those dreams faded, and in the 1920s, Middleburg businessman Richard Norman bought the facility.

Norman Studios soon became one of the first moviemakers to break the color barrier, filming silent pictures with black crews, writers and casts, including black actors who portrayed cowboys, aviators and heroes. …