In an age where everything appears to be disposable there are rare occasions when nostalgia and perseverance prevail. For those of us who grew up in South Florida in the 50’s and 60’s there was no place like the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami to see an event or show. Gleason (also known as ‘The Great One’) was an innovator of television is its early days; first with his classic show The Honeymooners (1951-1955) then later with his variety show (one of the first of its kind and was filmed here in Miami) The Jackie Gleason Show. The Honeymooners was one of the first shows to portray working class married couples (Gleason, Audrey Meadows, Art Carney, Joyce Randolph) in a realistic non-glamorous apartment complex in Brooklyn. The skit actually first appeared on the Jackie Gleason Show before becoming its own production. Gleason visited us in our living rooms on and off with the show through the years until 1978.
The Jackie Gleason Show premiered on CBS in September of 1952. Gleason’s show opened with a monologue followed by comedy sketches which included Gleason and a number of regular famous performers (including Art Carney) and musical numbers by the June Taylor Dancers. Gleason show brought the rich and famous to Miami Beach making it ‘the premiere place to be and visit,’ in the country. Though the show was cancelled in 1970 the theater remained as one of the quintessential landmarks in Miami. Of course times changed, the city grew and expanded and larger venues began popping up everywhere. However none had the charm and past as the Jackie Gleason Theater.
The City of Miami Beach has selected Portman-CMC to propose a development plan for the Miami Beach Convention Center District. “The Miami Beach community has been very vocal in public meetings, in the media and online. The residents made it clear that The Jackie Gleason Theater is an important landmark they want to keep. We listened, we heard, and we’ve found a way to adjust the master plan in order to keep the Theater in place while still achieving our other objectives, creating a win-win for all,” said Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings and John Portman & Associates.
Their plan while preserving the existing structure will include making the following renovations:
• Technical upgrades and renovations to enhance production capability and quality of entertainment experience;
• Programming that features existing entertainment options, such as concerts and comedy shows, offered by Live Nation (which will remain the primary operator) as well as other events to help increase the theater’s utilization and provide the City with additional entertainment options. Cirque du Soleil will design a customized experience, specifically for Miami Beach, to be added to Live Nation’s programming;
• A Jukari facility, providing residents and visitors with a unique fitness-focused opportunity to learn gymnastic skills and train with Cirque du Soleil professionals;
• Improvements to activate the new west façade, facing the square, with a new educational center for the performing arts-a training ground for music, dance, theater, and sports. In addition to keeping the existing concert programming, this element will honor Jackie Gleason by furthering the art of performance; and
• Improvements to the ground floor, on all four sides, to expand the building’s current accessibility, which is currently only on Washington Avenue, to interface with Soundscape Park, the convention center, and the new town square.
It is easy to see with all these proposed plans The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater will exceed other concert and event facilities in the area. It will in fact give the Convention Center and Theater a needed kick that may just surpass all other arenas and concert halls in South Florida. Not only will it create more revenue for the city but it will give us natives and tourists alike a new place to enjoy on Miami Beach. Gleason’s presence will hold strong as Portman-CMC will continue its plan to honor his memory and legacy. A new statue of his likeness will be included in the plan, as well as features that pay tribute to his signature style.
The Jackie Gleason Theater and Convention Center both hold special memories for me now that I’m an adult. I saw my first shows there with my parents, the Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus , and have a photo of my father with Gleason playing his drums. It is a wonderful thing to see that though progress is inevitable there are some companies out there that understand and appreciate nostalgia and legacy.