History

Our History

The Ritz Theatre has been downtown’s stage since 1925 when it opened as a venue for silent movies and vaudeville acts. First known as the “Williamson” it changed ownership in 1932 and was renamed “The Ritz.” For decades it served as Winter Haven’s only movie house. However, by the 1980s and the introduction of multi-screen theaters, the Ritz was no longer financially viable and went dark. During the 1980s it opened briefly as a nightclub for teens but by the 1990s the building sat vacant and deteriorating.

In 1996 a group of preservation-minded citizens organized to purchase the Ritz and revive its use as an entertainment venue. A study, commissioned by the group, recommended that the building become a multi-purpose venue and not reinstall permanent seating. The effort was plagued by years of setbacks and challenges. Finally, through significant support from city, county and state grants, the theater was beautifully restored and reopened in 2013. A series of missteps and lack of direction forced the organization into receivership in 2018 and a new group of citizens were seated as a Board of Directors. This was the genesis for today’s Historic Ritz Theatre, Inc.