“The Grand Old Lady” turns 105

Birthdays are a time to celebrate, and just north of Navarre Beach we celebrated a big one this week.

Known as “The Grand Old Lady,” the Imogene Theatre turned 105! This theatre has been offering entertainment in downtown Milton for generations. Milton is a quaint little town just north of our beaches.

Built in 1912, she opened her doors for the first time Oct. 13, 1913.

The cost of construction at that time was $25,000, which would be equal to roughly $631,000 today based on inflation. Yeesh! Looking at her timeless beauty, you can see why she cost a pretty penny.

Milton historians have kept great records of her life through the decades, and they are always on hand to share these stories. The theater was born out of need in the community. In 1909, a massive fire claimed most of the downtown buildings including the community center.

So Steven Harvey, president of the area bank, set out to recreate that space. He envisioned a vaudeville-style theater with shops on the bottom floor and a variety of performances upstairs.

He contracted with locally infamous architect Walker Willis who designed many of the historic structures still standing in the area including the Milton School building and the San Carlos Hotel.

At the time of her founding, Imogene was not yet Imogene. She was called the Milton Auditorium and Opera House, but when the Gooch family purchase the theater a decade later, it was renamed after Imogene Gooch, then 7 years old. The living Imogene was quite the entertainer herself, performed on the stage as a child and famously singing the song “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.”

Through the ages, Imogene hosted live performances, the first silent films, then the first “talkies” or movies with sound. She survived hurricanes, flood and more fires.

In 2009, a fire nearly claimed our Grand Old Lady. Damage to the inside of the building was extensive and our hearts were broken that we might loose this gem of our history.

But the Milton Historical Society rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt her, sticking true to the historic finishes Walker Willis planned nearly a century before.

Now she holds host to performances each weekend including mystery dinner theater, nationally known musical acts and other events.

If you have not seen the Improbable Cause Mystery Dinner folks do their thing you are missing a side splitting time, and the acoustics of the theater for musical performances have become legend among musicians that visit her.

And a historical tour, complete with ghost stories and artifacts from Imogene’s life are always a treat.

So come celebrate the Grand Old Lady with us. Book at navarrelistings.com.

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