West Grove’s ACE theater gets a chance at redemption

Its closed doors may reopen after being named a historic site

Erick Johnson | 7/10/2014, 9 a.m.
The seats that once held movie-goers are now rusted. Cobwebs cover the entrance of the doors. The marquee that once ...
Designation fuels plans to restore landmark.

Last Tuesday, Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board designated the ACE Theater on Grand Avenue as a historic site. Shuttered for decades, the curtains may rise once again for the 89-year-old theater because its owners have renewed plans to restore the aging landmark back to its original splendor.

“The ACE was the place to be,” said Denise Wallace, president of ACE Development, which owns the theater. “This place is so important to the our community.”

Today the ACE stands as a faded landmark and reminder of Coconut Grove’s storied past. The seats that once held movie-goers are now rusted. Cobwebs cover the entrance of the doors. The marquee that once attracted hundreds of moviegoers to sold-out shows has not lit up in decades.

But rewind to the 1950s and ‘60s when the ACE Theater on Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove was humming with Blacks who had their own community theater during those segregated times. Along with Overtown’s Capitol, Ritz and Lyric theaters, the ACE afforded Blacks the opportunity to see popular movies, films and cartoons without having to go “ up the back stairs” -- a routine practice for many Blacks attending segregated theaters in small Florida cities.

Miami's Black movie houses also helped employ about 40 Black people, according to a 1964 Miami Times column written by Frances Henderson. In the article, Henderson urged Blacks to continue patronizing the theater, which showed many popular movies. He described Saturdays when teens filled the theater to view favorite cowboy movies like “'The Lone Ranger,' 'Hopalong Cassidy,' 'Roy Rogers,'” and matinees.

“It would be wonderful to see ACE back up again,” said Wallace.

Built in 1925, the theatre was purchased in 1979 by Harvey Wallace, who bought the building from Wometco Enterprises. His death a year later left plans to restore the landmark unfinished. The theater was left to his wife Dorothy and his daughter Denise. Decades have passed in the hopes that the theatre would reopen to the public.

News from the historic preservation board was met with applause from Coconut Grove residents who shared fond memories of the theater at the the board meeting.

The naming of ACE as a historic designation could help Denise obtain funds to restore the theater. Renovations could cost over $2.3 million, according to thesis written by a graduate student at Clemson University in 2011.

With a new mixed-used residential complex being constructed across the street, the timing of the historic designation is perfect for plans to restore the ACE theater.