Special Report: Flickers of the Past, Celebrating 80 Years of the Martin Theatre

PANAMA CITY, Fla - For decades, the Martin Theatre has and continues to be a staple in the community, bringing a variety of the arts to downtown Panama City. This November, the Martin Theatre will celebrate its 80th birthday, so we wanted to take a look at the history, what the future holds, and what this iconic place means to Panama City. 

"The Martin Theatre was built in 1936 and it was meant to be one of the movie palaces they built in the late 30's," said Martin Theatre Executive Director, Barbara McMinis. 

The theatre opened on November 23, 1936 and was originally called the "Ritz." It was the golden age of the motion picture industry, then World War II came, movies changed, and so did the Ritz. The Ritz hosted large War Bond Sales Rallies where locals could see Army Corps Planes and the occasional Hollywood Star. 

"When you come into the theatre you can see the pictures where they landed the planes on Harrison, and you would pay your nickel to see the planes. It was a really big deal," added McMinis. 

Now, if the walls of the Martin Theatre could talk, they would brag about all of the stars that have appeared here over the years. 

"Of course everyone knows Clark Gable came through here and we had this famous cowboy, Bob Elliott," said McMinis.

In the early 50's, the Martin family bought the Ritz and changed its name to be forever known as "The Martin Theatre."

"The Ritz Theatre, The Martin Theatre, it has been here the whole time we grew up. I have been in Panama City since 1947, so I remember the Martin Theatre ever since it was here," said former Martin Theatre employee, John Langston.

The Martin's would then transferred John Neely to town to manage the cinema. 

"We worked at the  candy bar and we grew up learning how to make popcorn," said Pat Beach, daughter of John Neely. 

"We had all the popcorn you could eat," added Penny Daffin, daughter of John Neely. 

In 1978, the Martin Theatre closed and later on in the mid-80's new owners bought the building and turned it into a shooting range. 

"They removed all of the seats and took pot shots and broom stick silhouettes. It was quite interesting," said McMinis. 

In the late 1980's, the Martin Theatre got a chance as a new life. Downtown Improvement Board Chairman, Mack Lewis spearheaded a renovation for a multi-use entertainment facility and the Martin Theatre re-opened in 1990. 

"It brings not only local talent and gives children in our schools the opportunities to participate, but it has expanded to bring in traveling groups from all over the country," added Chairman of the Martin Theatre Board of Directors, Jim Bailey. 

Despite the ups and downs, the Martin Theatre has become an iconic symbol. 

"It has had a long row and that is what we hope we are, we hope we are a landmark for downtown," said McMinis. 

And it continues to make memories. 

"Isn't it wonderful we can go back in an instant to 1958 and then we can go back to 2016 just as quick," added Langston. 

Cheers to the Martin Theatre! Here is to 80 years of entertaining and all the cherished memories, and here's to continuing entertainment in Bay County for years to come. 




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