New Martin Theatre marquee pays homage to the original

Panama City

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Downtown Panama City history will soon be restored as the Martin Theatre prepares to install it’s brand new, yet classic, marquee.

Along with many other long-standing landmarks, Hurricane Michael took a chunk out of the Martin Theatre and demolished its classic marquee.

In 1936, it was called The Ritz but later renamed and known as a symbol of Downtown Panama City history — one that is now ready to be restored.

Freeman Electric Sign Company who are the original installers will complete the install once again.

Mike Duncan, part-owner of Freeman Electric Sign Company said he’s excited to carry on what’s become a family tradition.

“In 1959, my father, JT Duncan Jr……installed, when they changed it to the Martin Theatre, he did that,” Duncan said. “Later on, in about 1991, we completely redid it.”

Duncan said the new sign is incredible, an improvement from the original.

Sean Depalma, City of Panama City Quality Life Director said it will be a modern-day version of the original marquee.

“What the marquee is, is a customized sign and a digital display board,” Depalma said. “An almost exact replica of the original one.”

In total, the marquee cost over $400,000 to produce, but most of that price was covered by insurance.

Adding the digital aspect only cost the City of Panama City $60,000, which was approved at the Panama City Commission Meeting back in February.

“Instead of the old changeable, marquee signs,” Duncan said. “It’s all computer operated and it’s full color……the most crisp picture you could possibly buy.”

Duncan said, this time, his company is only installing the sign. It was manufactured in Springhill, Illinois by Ace Sign Company.

“Looking at it, and with my experience on bidding jobs, I’d say this sign is probably $800,000,” Duncan said.

Installation is set to begin on November 30 but will take a few days to complete.

“It goes up in phases, in parts and it’s projected to start on Monday,” Depalma said. “With the actual display cabinet and then a roof or topper will be built on top of it, and then the bottom neon lighting will be mounted on.”

Duncan said building prep was also necessary in order to get ready for a sign that is heavier than most.

“What we’ve un-loaded so far represents 26,000 pounds of signs,” Duncan said. “We’ll have six men on the job.”

Depalma said the sign will be an icon for the area.

“We are extremely excited to have the marquee back. It’s going to be a focal point, not only for the theatre but on Harrison and 4th,” Deplma said. “It’s also going to be able to display community information and really light up that portion of the street.”

The City of Panama City encourages residents to come to check out the progress but cautions them to keep their distance. Duncan said they’ll do their best to stay safe.

“We haven’t dropped anything this week but this week ain’t over,” Duncan said.

Duncan said having the opportunity once again, is touching.

“It’s an honor to know that we are carrying on the tradition that our father instilled into us of quality and that’s why we’ve been here since 1936.”

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