Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Leased Picture Show; Green Cove's Historic Clay Theatre to Reopen, Thanks to Brothers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Leased Picture Show; Green Cove's Historic Clay Theatre to Reopen, Thanks to Brothers

Article excerpt

Byline: Teresa Stepzinski

GREEN COVE SPRINGS | John Watzke was about 80 miles from where he lives but felt right at home inside the historic Clay Theatre on Saturday.

"This is like home. We were literally raised in the theater, mostly in the drive-ins but we were in literally every theater in the city of New Orleans at one time or another.

"We love the old theaters," said Watzke of the reasons he and his brother, Charlie, are bringing the theater back to life after four idle years.

The twin-screen, two-story theater sits just a block up from the St. Johns River and neighboring city park and spring.

Built in 1919, it originally was the Palace Opera House before it was converted to a movie theater in 1936.

In the early 1990s, the original balcony was renovated to accommodate a second screen, with 224 seats downstairs and 78 upstairs.

It sat empty for four years until the brothers, New Orleans natives whose grandfather and father were movie theater projectionists, saw an online advertisement for it.

Now living in Ocala, they and partner Chad Edwards set their sights on reviving the theater, which remained in good shape although vacant.

They previously brought back a half-dozen old-time movie theaters or drive-ins, including the Ocala Drive-In Theatre last year.

"We're all about the nostalgia. ... It's the old theater, the small community and the nostalgia of the building. The whole place is what we're into," Watzke said.

Aided by their families, the men spent Saturday cleaning the theater and testing the projector and other equipment.

It was their first full day working at the theater since signing the lease with an option to buy it.

Watzke said they expect to reopen the theater by the end of the month.

First-run movies will dominate the marquee. They're going to book their own movies, and plan to show mostly show G, PG and PG-13 movies.

The concession stand will be stocked with a full range of treats, including Watzke's beloved root beer. …

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