1820 E. Sunrise Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304
By Jane Feehan
Few living in or visiting Fort Lauderdale fail to drive by the old Gateway Theater (Sunrise and Federal Highway), former site of a lion-breeding pit. The bright lights of its marquee have dimmed only a few times throughout the years. President Kennedy’s assassination was one such occasion; hurricanes knocked out power the others.
Ground was broken for this 1,600-seat Wometco theater – then one of about 30 in the state - June 30, 1950. A preview of the event made the Miami News June 25, 1950.
… 500 children will dig for buried treasure on groundbreaking day and a parade and a hillbilly band will be featured as part of the festivities. A parade … will move from formation at King Motors, Inc. and march to the construction site in the new Gateway development. After the ceremonies a “Gateway gold rush” will take place with the youngsters digging for gold coins on the construction site, entitling them to prizes. Master of ceremonies will be T. R. "Bud" Starr and Wometco will be represented by Sonny Shepherd of Miami.
Sandra Starr, daughter of Bud Starr was one of the children on hand for the coin search. Early days of the Gateway Theater involved the whole family:
I was there with my grandmother for the coin search at the property. My sisters – Jerri and Susie – and I walked to see the movies every Saturday …My grandfather was the janitor of the building and my cousins the ushers. My father, Thurman Robert “Bud” Starr, a transplanted advertising man from Pittsburgh, named the place Gateway after the Gateway Center in Pittsburg. The Gateway Center, the first commercial center away from downtown, was his project from concept to development. It was his passion bringing about his early death at 42 in 1952.
Bud Starr’s vision, also his passion, led to the successful opening of the theater in March, 1951.
A few months later, the Miami News (Dec. 22, 1951, p. 11) reported that management of the Gateway Theater could not entice any stars of the film “Distant Drums” to attend its Fort Lauderdale debut so “they settled for a group of Seminole Indians.”
The Gateway Theater has kept its doors open for 60 years. King Motors closed its Sunrise location during the last decade. Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
For more on the lions of Sunrise Boulevard, see: http://janesbits.blogspot.com/2010/09/florida-history-fort-lauderdales.html
Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Broward County history, Fort Lauderdale in the 1950s, movie theaters of Fort Lauderdale