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Thomasville searches for historical Ritz Theatre sign; how you can help find it

The Ritz Theatre sign has been missing for over 30 years.
Posted at 6:00 PM, Jun 20, 2024
  • Thomasville is searching for the missing neon sign from the historical Ritz Theatre in "The Bottom" district.
  • The sign from the segregation era, holds cultural and historical significance for the neighborhood.
  • Watch the story to learn about this iconic piece of Thomasville's past and see how you can help.

Thomasville is on a mission to find the original Ritz Theatre sign, a historical piece from "The Bottom" area. I'm giving you a closer look on the history behind this iconic sign.

The Ritz Theatre was located in the all-black district of Thomasville called "The Bottom," specifically at 323 W Jackson Street. The theatre was torn down in 1976, but its iconic neon sign was thankfully saved.

I talked to Ephraim Rotter, the curator at the History Center in Thomasville, to understand the story of the 12-foot art deco neon sign.

"So in 1935, Thomasville entrepreneur Nat Williams Sr. was building movie theaters. He started the Interstate Company, which was a movie theater company. They built the Rose Theatre in Thomasville, the Bean Theatre in Boston, and eventually in 1935, built the Ritz for black customers in Thomasville. This was at the time of strict legal segregation, but the market was starting to recognize the financial power of the black community," said Rotter.

Rotter tells me the Ritz Theatre continued to operate as a blacks-only movie theater until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. After that, it began to fall into disrepair as people were able to see movies anywhere.

"Over the next 10 years or so, the Ritz did continue to operate, but it operated as sort of a second-run theater where a lot of horror movies or second-run movies would play for a little cheaper - but things that Williams did not necessarily want running at their first-run theatre," said Rotter.

The city plans to restore the sign and place it by the new Ritz Amphitheater entryway on West Jackson Street once found. If not, they will create a replica of the original sign.

If you know where the Ritz Theatre sign is, reach out to Andy Goodwin at 229-227-3316.