You didn’t even have to live in South Florida to know about the Coconut Grove Playhouse.
It began life as a movie theater – the Player’s State Theater.
And when it opened its doors on Jan. 3, 1927, it was part of the Paramount chain.
Designed by architect Richard Kiehnel of Kiehnel and Elliott, it came back in a time when theaters were meant to be as grand as the productions they would show.
Local realtors Irving J. Thomas and Fin L. Pierce were the builders. And another well known Grove name was the contractor – Albert Peacock.
The building became the second air-conditioned theater on Florida’s east coast.
In the 1950s, oilman George Engle saw potential for a live performing theater and, a million-dollar renovation later, with architect Alfred Browning Parker at the helm, it reopened as the Coconut Grove Playhouse.
Once again, the curtain went up on Jan. 3, this time of 1956.
And it was not for just any play -- it was the American premier of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” starring Bert Lahr and Tom Ewell.
Major actors and actresses would cross the Playhouse stage: Maureen Stapleton, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Eve Arden, Tallulah Bankhead, Carol Channing, Liza Minnelli, Linda Lavin, Bea Arthur, George C. Scott, Colleen Dewhurst, and Ethel Merman.
“The Late Show with David Letterman” premiered there on Nov. 22, 1996.
But both a facility too large and a debt just the same forced the closing of the Coconut Grove Playhouse in 2006.
Now, with the theater saved from the auction block, Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Director Michael Spring discusses what went wrong, and now, what an extended group is hoping to get right.
Hear the interview here: