The Stanley – a History of Theater in Downtown WPB

Stanley C. WarrickIf roaming the sidewalks along Clematis is part of your daily or weekly routine, odds are that you’ve paid a visit to Center City Pharmacy at 416 Clematis Street. If you’ve been there, you know it as a full service pharmacy, wrapped by a nicely appointed convenience store that carries various snacks and drinks, perfect for mid-afternoon cravings or a jolt before a work-out at Ultima Fitness next door. You can even pick up some beer or wine for after hours, and the pharmacy delivers within a 5-mile radius, so it’s perfect if you need a Z-Pak and don’t want to get out of your PJ’s.

The Center City Pharmacy was started back in 2004, and has been operating on Clematis Street since. The history of their location, however, goes back much further. . .

Way back in the early 1920’s, 416 Clematis Avenue, as it was then called, was home to none other than the Stanley Theater, one of several owned and operated by Stanley C. Warrick. The Stanley, as it was locally known, featured screenings of silent films and eventually “singing and talking pictures,” which ran continuously from 2:00 to 11:00 p.m. Tickets were often sold in books that ran from $3 to $12 for those who were more frequent theatergoers who didn’t mind watching their movies in a cinema without air conditioning. It just wasn’t common to have it at the time.

Stanley C. Warrick, born in 1872, initially hailed from a town called Auburn in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Like so many, he found his way south to the new and exciting playground that was Palm Beach, and proclaimed it his new home perhaps sometime after the turn of the century. Stanley, who thought of Palm Beach as the “winter fashion capital of the world,” sought to capitalize on the growing numbers of wealthy tourists flooding into the area. His first significant business venture here was called Fashion Beaux Arts, a shopping center opened in 1916 on Palm Beach, which featured New York and Parisian styled shops. A year later, he added a 225- seat theater to the rooftop of his building, and began three daily showings of the time’s best silent films.  Guests were treated to the performance of an orchestra before each screening, and a Wurlitzer organist provided the musical accompaniment to the captioned silent films. Stanley once famously dropped hand bills – some of which contained actual theater tickets – from an airplane to promote one of his films. Drama was obviously in his blood, and the publicity stunt made the local papers.

Having apparently enjoyed healthy success on the island, Stanley Warrick immediately began to branch out even further. By 1919, he had launched the Fashion Beaux Art Realty Service, which sought to service those newly arriving in Palm Beach with fair and equitable real estate service and advice. (Prospectors, it seems, had been taking some folks to the cleaners, selling them land on speculation, and Stanley set out to put an honorable stop to that.)  Right around that time, Stanley decided to bring theater to the mainland, and The Stanley was one of a few cinemas opened along Clematis Street. Before long, guests were munching on fresh roasted Virginia peanuts while watching films at The Stanley, prepared by “Peanut George’s” across the street.

By all accounts, The Stanley did quite well throughout the 1920’s. Stanley Warrick did his best to stay cutting edge, offering new and lavish advertising to keep seats filled. In April 1923, he actually ran a promotion to give away two brand new cars, among other prizes, valued then at a total of around $4,000. (That’s the equivalent of about $55,000 today!) One lucky winner drove off in a Studebaker Special 6, while another won a Chevrolet Superior Touring Car as a result of the promotion. With the wheels of technology turning, The Stanley added state- of-the-art sound equipment to the venue in 1929, and “talkies” began being featured in addition to silent films.

Success for the Stanley Theater, unfortunately, would not last. Stanley Warrick’s company went bankrupt in 1933, and most of his theaters were closed. Some say that the company’s downfall could be attributed to the fact that the fancy folks on Palm Beach had become disenchanted with “public” forms of entertainment, and therefore stopped supporting theaters on the mainland. Following the company’s receivership, The Stanley would reopen at some point, and continue to show movies and replays of heavyweight boxing matches. It’s uncertain when The Stanley ultimately closed its doors.

Stanley Warrick obviously made his mark on the West Palm Beach populations back in the 1920’s. And while his theater company ultimately ended in bankruptcy, his influence here can still be felt in downtown West Palm Beach today. And in a very big way. . . !  Stanley, you see, set out to put West Palm Beach on the map back in 1916 by getting together with some other local businessmen.  They orchestrated a Mardi Gras-like festival that would feature marching bands, parades, a yacht flotilla, and local dances.  With Stanley as its director, the festival would run for a total of three days. It was named, after some deliberation, the Seminole Sun Dance, and it would take place annually for another seven years and sporadically after that.

If that name – the Seminole Sun Dance – doesn’t ring a bell, it certainly should. That festival, dating back to its founder, Stanley Warrick, is credited as being the foundation for the massive undertaking known as Sunfest today.