There are few things in life that are more distressing than opening your eyes to realize that the wonderful dream you were having only a few moments ago was, well, nothing more than a dream. Thus is the story of the Coral Gables Dream Theater, the massive open-air movie theater that graced the corner of Ponce de Leon Blvd and Giralda Ave from 1926 to c.1928.
In May of 1926 it was announced by J. Gordon Hussey, a developer who had built his fair share of Coral Gables homes, that plans had been finalized and construction was commencing on Miami’s newest movie theater. Hussey dubbed it “The Dream Theater” and announced that the building would be two stories high and would contain 29 shops and offices, yielding a capacity of 1,500. In keeping with the architectural themes found within Coral Gables, John and Coulton Skinner were hired as architects and fashioned the building to replicate a famous bull ring in Seville, Spain. The excitement surrounding the announcement of this theater was palpable, though, as would soon become evident, a series of in-house blunders coupled with a sequence of unpredictable disasters would result in the theater’s premature demise.
The Dream Theater’s opening date was projected to be sometime in September of 1926. Hussey spared no expense in stoking public excitement through a series of promotional campaigns prior to the theater’s opening, which included dance contests, full page advertisements, and roadside billboards. With the grand opening rapidly approaching, construction and assembly continued full speed ahead. Newspapers frequently reported on the progress made to the building, announcing in May 1926 that two giant motiographs had been delivered to the theater. Choosing the motiograph as the device that would be projecting the film onto the screen proved to be one of the first major missteps taken by Hussey. The machine, which was developed when silent films were transitioning into “talkies,” turned out to be a fad and was unable to compete with more sophisticated technology developed to address the changing preferences in film. However, hindsight is always 20/20 and management was pleased with progress made and the public appeared to echo these sentiments. Construction was near completion and anticipation was at an all-time high.
It would be to the readers benefit to take a moment to describe the contemporaneous financial and social climate found in Miami whilst the Dream Theater was under construction. The local economy was booming and businesses were opening left and right. In fact, it can be said that, in retrospect, the market was becoming overheated. These newly opened businesses included restaurants, banks, clothing stores, grocery stores, amphitheaters, pools, and yes, movie theaters. In 1926 and 1927 alone, at least five movie theaters opened to the public: The Tower Theater (1926), Coral Gables Theater (1926), Olympia Theater (1926), Dream Theater (1926) and the Players State Theater (1927; currently known as the Coconut Grove Playhouse). By 1926, the economy was begining to slow and the Dream Theater, when opened, would have to readily stand out to compete with all of these newly opened movie houses.
September of 1926, the month the Dream Theater was supposed to open, proved to be nothing short of a nightmare. The Great Miami Hurricane made landfall and plowed through Miami on September 17th and 18th, leaving the city completely and utterly decimated. Countless public, residential, and commercial buildings were damaged beyond repair, leaving Miami in a structurally and financially precarious situation. Businesses closed and the ones that didn’t would find trying times ahead. The Dream Theater survived the storm, though the storm’s winds led to the destruction of several unfinished walls. Repairs were made and the theater was rescheduled to open in October.
When the Dream Theater opened on Saturday, October 23, 1926, the Miami News hailed it as “the most beautiful outdoor playhouse in the Nation.” Doc Dammers, the first Mayor of Coral Gables and former Merrick auctioneer, officiated at the opening ceremonies. The first movie presented was The Eagle, a silent film staring Rodolph Valentino as a lieutenant in the Russian army who, after a series of unfortunate events, becomes an outlaw. By all accounts, the screening was received with a standing ovation and those in attendance were in awe of the roofless building that housed the theater. Time would reveal, however, that this initial success would not be indicative of future successes.
In 1926, the Dream Theater was reported on by the Miami News and the Miami Herald dozens upon dozens of times. In the latter half of 1927, one finds the theater receiving less press and having a dwindling advertising presence which had showcased screening schedules. In 1928, the theater is not mentioned once, appearing as if it had disappeared just a quickly as it had been erected.
It can be theorized that the massive amount of competition that the business faced, the decimating effects of the 1926 hurricane, the collapse of the Great Florida Land Boom, and the soon to be antiquated theater equipment, caused the theater to close its doors for good sometime between 1927 and 1929. Whether the theater was re-branded and renamed, repurposed for a different use, or left vacant, is unclear as of the writing of this article. What is clear, however, is that the Dream Theater, once the most anticipated addition to the City Beautiful, arrived with the boom and disappeared with the bust, but still holds the achievement of being the first movie house to have been built in the City of Coral Gables.