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Carefree Theatre | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

The Carefree Theatre

Location Class:
Built: 1939 | Abandoned: 2005
Status: Demolished
Photojournalist: David Bulit

The Carefree Theatre

The former Carefree Theater once located on the corner of Dixie Highway and Flamingo Drive began as an ice cream parlor and coin laundry. In 1939, the building was bought by Elias Chalhub who opened up a bowling alley across the hall, the Carefree Bowlaway, with wooden pins and 10 lanes that were the largest in the state at the time. “Pin boys” were used when it first opened who would manually set the pins and roll the balls back to the players until automatic pinsetters were later installed.

On November 18, 1948, the movie theater opened with The Egg and I starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. Some sources though state that it opened with The Saxon Charm, a backstage drama starring Robert Montgomery and Susan Hayward. It originally had 800 seats but the two front rows were removed for a curved stage constructed in front of the screen, reducing the seating to 772. The Carefree Theatre was also touted as the only theater in the South with a Cinemascope screen; 43 feet wide and 16 feet high. Facing the street was retail space with offices and a dressing room located above it.

The Carefree Theatre, c. 1950s
The ticket booth at the entrance to the one-screen theater. The game room was down the hall and occupied half the building.
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The theater had an occupancy of 772.

Ownership Under Fantasma Productions

In the 1960s, the theater was managed by General Cinemas, and throughout the 70s and early-80s, it had become a second-run bargain house. In 1984, the Carefree was bought by John Stoll, who was the founder and president of Fantasma Productions, one of the world’s longest-standing and largest concert promoters and producers. From 1986 to 2001, he operated the Comedy Corner where the bowling alley was located along with a retail art gallery.

At that time, it was one of the top venues for comedy in the nation. Larry the Cable Guy got his start at the Comedy Corner as the warmup act. Some other well-known entertainers who performed there included Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Bill Hicks, Bill Mayer, Steve Harvey, Norm MacDonald, Drew Carey, Pauly Shore, and Carrot Top. Live concerts were also played here which included musical acts by Weird Al, Brian Setzer, Meat Loaf, and many more. B. B. King would also play there once a year to sold-out crowds.

Stoll began offering second-run movies, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show which ran continuously for more than 15 years. In the 90s, first-run foreign and art films were shown, making it the most successful art house in the nation. The theatre became host to the Palm Beach Film Festival and South Florida Jewish Film Festival every year.

Carfree Theatre - Photo by The Palm Beach Post, 1984
The Carefree Theatre, c. 1980s

Closure and Demolition

On December 6, 2005, the theater and Chinese restaurant which shared the building were evacuated when the roof collapsed over an empty storefront on the south side of the building. This prompted city officials to shutter and condemn the building. The demolition of the Carefree Theater occurred on September 7, 2016.

In 2016, it was announced that the property was purchased by real estate developer Charles S. Cohen, who planned on building a complex that will include a six-screen theater and 94 luxury apartments, in two buildings in a 1920s Mediterranean style similar to that of The Breakers Hotel. As of 2023, the lot where the Carefree Theatre once stood remains empty.

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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