From the Lake Worth Playhouse website:
History of the
Lake Worth Playhouse
The Lake Worth Playhouse occupies the former Oakley Theatre, the oldest building on the Register of the Art Deco Society of Palm Beach County.
The original structure was built in the Mediterranean Revival style so prevalent in this area at the time, but later modified to Art Deco. The building was constructed by brothers Lucien and Clarence Oakley, who came here from Illinois on the wave of a movie mania sweeping the country in the early 1920’s with the dream of building a movie palace and vaudeville house. The original building permit was secured in April 1924 and costs were projected to be $46,000, but eventually ran way over budget. The theatre first opened its doors on November 3, 1924 with local newspapers proudly touting its $150,000 cost – indeed a very high price at the start of the Depression. If you look up at the pecky cypress beams supporting the ceiling you will still see the initials “O” and “T” that stand for Oakley Theatre stenciled there.
Opening night patrons were treated to a showing of a silent movie based on the Broadway play “Welcome Stranger”. The new $10,000 Wurlitzer pipe organ (with built-in piano) was heard in concert for the first time that night and a five-piece orchestra from Ft. Lauderdale played for the two performances. Also appearing on stage at this time were students of the Grace A. Thomas School of Dancing who performed dances with evocative names such as “High Hats”, “The Jazz Dancers ”, and “Sweethearts”.
September 16, 1928 – a devastating hurricane ripped through the area, destroying almost everything in its path. The Oakley Theatre was virtually demolished, but the brothers wouldn’t let go of their dream and plans were soon made to rebuild. The Lake Worth Herald proudly reported that the theatre would re-open on January 10, 1929. New sound and projection equipment was installed in the fall of 1929. When the full weight of the Depression struck South Florida, the Oakley brothers lost ownership of the theatre. Over the ensuing years the theatre changed names and ownership many times, showing art films, legitimate films and later, blue movies. Finally, it was derelict and shut down.
The Lake Worth Playhouse was incorporated on December 1, 1953 by a representative group of Lake Worth citizens, including Richard Sorgini, Sr., who still practices law in Lake Worth and continues to support the Playhouse. The earliest seasons featured four productions a year in the un-air-conditioned third floor auditorium of the old Lake Worth City Hall, which was reached by climbing three long flights of stairs. Yet many people came out to support the organization and most of the performances were sold out. The first play produced by the fledgling organization was “springtime for Henry”. Occasionally productions were also staged at Palm Beach Community College. The beloved Watson B. Duncan, Chairman of the Theatre Department at the college, served on the Board of Directors during the fledgling years and it was at the latter location that his pupil Burt Reynolds appeared in several productions.
In October of 1975 the Lake Worth Playhouse purchased the Oakley Theatre building for $60,000 and began much-needed renovations with an additional $15,000 Bicentennial grant. The first official production of the Lake Worth Playhouse in its new home was “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln”, chosen to fulfill stipulations of the federal Bicentennial grant. Currently the organization employs a staff of ten and offers a season of traditional musicals and plays on the main stage; a vibrant Education Program with classes for adults and children of all ages; the International Cultural Exchange Program; extensive community outreach and multicultural programming; The LakeWorth Playhouse Playwrights’ Workshop; a variety of cultural collaborations with other arts groups such as the Uptown Poetry Slam, Street Painting Festival, Ballet Folklorico Bolivia, Finn Fest, Evenings on the Avenue, jazz concerts, special events and much, much more.