Jacksonville Was America's First Hollywood

In the early years of the 20th century, Jacksonville earned the title of “Winter Film Capital of the World.” The warm climate, striking natural surroundings, diversity of architecture, inexpensive labor and easy rail access attracted more than 30 movie studios.

Jacksonville’s first silent film studio opened in 1908, followed by more than 30 others over the course of the next decade, including Metro Pictures – later to become Hollywood giant, MGM.

One noteworthy silent film studio was operated by producer Richard Norman, whose visionary pictures created positive, lead roles for African-American actors, a stark contrast to the standards of the time.
Today, in historic Old Arlington, you can find the home of Norman Studios, the only known remaining silent film studio complex in Jacksonville. The studio is being transformed into the Jacksonville Silent Film Museum.

In 2003, The Flying Ace, Norman’s signature film achievement, made its debut at the inaugural Jacksonville Film Festival after 75 years out of public sight. The annual festival revives Jacksonville’s glorious moviemaking past by serving as a destination for the independent film community and paving the way for a new generation of talent.

Historic picture palaces still in operation today in Jacksonville include The Florida Theatre, built in 1927 as the largest movie palace in Jacksonville and one of only four remaining grand movie palaces of the era in the state, and the San Marco Theater, built in 1938 as an Art Deco masterpiece and currently shows first-run blockbusters and cult classics.

The moviemaking tradition continues in Jacksonville today, as the city has been the site of many modern-day films including Basic, The Manchurian Candidate and HBO’s Recount.

About the Author