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St. Pete Beach's iconic Beach Theatre closes

ST. PETE BEACH — For 72 years, a marquee over the Beach Theatre's entrance has told passers-by what's playing on its lone screen.

This weekend, the red letters were arranged into a message: "THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES."

St. Pete Beach's iconic movie theater, which for years faced financial problems, has closed.

Opened Jan. 15, 1940 — when movies with sound were still a relatively new phenomena — its closure was made official on Nov. 18, 2012, with a post on its Facebook page: "We would like to thank everyone for supporting us over the years and making so many 'Beach Theatre Memories.' A sad day has come in the life of the 'St. Pete Beach Theatre.' We will miss you all!"

Owner Michael France said in a text message Sunday night that he was unavailable for comment.

France — a St. Petersburg native and screenwriter with credits including Cliffhanger, GoldenEye, and film adaptations of comic books The Hulk, The Punisher and The Fantastic Four bought the theater at 315 Corey Ave. for $850,000 in 2007. In 2011, France told the Tampa Bay Times that, despite cutting costs, he was struggling to keep it open.

France kept ticket prices low until the very end — $5 for a matinee, $7 for every other show — but it apparently wasn't enough to attract a big enough crowd.

He said in 2011 that he needed to get the Beach Theatre classified by the IRS as a nonprofit organization, which would have reduced the theater's tax bills and opened avenues for fundraising. Across the bay, the historic Tampa Theatre is run by a not-for-profit foundation and holds more than 600 events a year.

France set up a website, savethebeachtheatre.org, where he mentioned the Tampa Theatre. He said he planned to update fans on the process of shifting to nonprofit status and to solicit donations and volunteers.

"After 70 years, I don't want to be the guy who turns out the lights on the Beach Theatre," France wrote on the website.

The theater's quest for nonprofit status was apparently unsuccessful, though. The website was never updated after France's original post.

If France is unable to find a buyer interested in reopening the Beach Theatre, the last new film to flicker on its screen will have been End of Watch, a cop drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The theater also still had a regular Saturday night showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which fans of the cult horror comedy musical showed up dressed in character.

A few doors down Corey Avenue from the shuttered theater, the longtime owner of a St. Pete Beach antique shop said Sunday he hoped new owners could bring the Beach Theatre back to life. Burke Prevratil, 75, remembered taking his daughter, and then his granddaughter, to see movies there over the years. He was last a regular in the early 2000s, when the theater's former owners supplemented cinematic offerings with Monday Night Football games.

"It matters a lot to the people here," said Prevratil, owner of Suzette's Antiques and Oddities. "There isn't a business out here it doesn't help."

Staff writer Steve Persall contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com.

St. Pete Beach's iconic Beach Theatre closes 11/18/12 [Last modified: Sunday, November 18, 2012 11:12pm]
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