Coconut Grove

Former West Grove theater named historic site

Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board designated the ACE Theater on Grand Avenue as a historic site Tuesday.

For residents in the West Grove, the ACE Theater is a relic of the years of segregation. The movie theater, which was built circa 1930, was the only one to serve the black community in the Grove in the 1950s.

The building has since lost its luster, and stands as a shell of what it once was. The marquee has not lit up for years, and the pink facade that once distinguished the theater was painted white.

Plans to restore the theater never came to fruition and the rooms that housed sold-out audiences remain abandoned.

But the theater, albeit empty, has not been forgotten.

Many longtime West Grove residents turned out for the historic preservation board’s meeting to share memories of dates, first jobs and even proms inside the theater.

“This was much more than a movie place,” said Denise Wallace, president of ACE Development, which owns the building.

For Wallace, the testimony from community members were emotional. Her family has owned the building since her late father purchased the theater from Wometco Enterprises in 1979, but she did not initially realize the significance the theater had.

“It took me some time to realize that for some people it represents so much of their lives,” Wallace said.

She was surprised to see there were board members equally as moved by the testimony.

Board member Timothy Barber commended the Wallace family and other advocates for their work to preserve the theater.

“I teach a class in American History, and sometimes kids these days have trouble understanding the past,” Barber said. “It is hard for them to see what colored people had to go through. When I see people like the Wallace family try to preserve this history, I am grateful. … I am in tears up here.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the theater as a historic site. This designation validates what the Wallace family has felt for years.

“You will hear from my family and the community that the theater is already being called historic,” Wallace said. “It has been called historic by community members, and interestingly enough it has been called historic by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.”

Wallace says she also hopes to pursue historic designation on the state and national levels. With these designations, she says it will open the door to more grants so they can restore the theater to a vibrant community center.

“With the historical designation, we are not only celebrating the antiquity of the theater, but its future as well,” said board member Gary Hecht.