Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton was today joined by City Council Member Pat Lockett-Felder and Capt. Dick Norman, son of the late Richard E. Norman, for a news conference to unveil plans to renovate Norman Studios; an historic silent film studio complex in the heart of Old Arlington.
The property contains four buildings which were once the home and creative center of filmmaker Richard E. Norman. Starting in early May, the buildings will undergo significant renovations to enhance their aesthetics and restore structural integrity. Enhancements will include selective demolition and debris disposal; masonry repairs; re-roofing; lead abatement; repair and/or replacement of historic exterior finishes; repair and/or replacement of windows and doors; exterior painting; installation of electrical systems and other related architectural and engineering services.
'Norman Studios is a treasure,' said Peyton, 'and it's a source of pride for Jacksonville because of its significant role in film history and culture. In addition, this site is located in one of the Seeds of Change pilot neighborhoods. The Seeds initiative places a heavy emphasis on improving quality of life, and this project tracks that objective.'
The project has been funded through grants from the State of Florida Division of Historical Resources, Save America's Treasures (a highly competitive grant partnership of the National Park System and National Trust for Historic Preservation), and with matching dollars from the City of Jacksonville, at a total cost of $681,000.
'We are excited to take a huge step forward in renovating the Norman Studios complex and thank the many partners that have brought us here today,' said Council Member Lockett-Felder. 'Not only will this project bring about an aesthetically pleasing change in the neighborhood, it will also mark a significant milestone in our efforts to preserve the many important pieces of our city's rich heritage.'
Richard Norman grew up in Jacksonville and began his filmmaking career in 1912. In 1920, he bought bankrupt Eagle Studios and turned the operation into a successful silent film production house.
Between 1920 and 1928, Norman's company made six feature films and scores of shorts. The Flying Ace (1926), the only Norman film that survives today, was shot at Norman Studios. One print resides at the Black Film Center and another is at the Library of Congress.
Norman's work was unique because the white film producer made movies with all-black casts and crews. What's more, the actors portrayed positive images of African-Americans instead of following the prevalent tradition of the day, which featured them in roles that were often demeaning.
Mr. Norman retired in 1952 and died in 1951. His wife, Gloria, operated a dance studio at the site until 1976, when she sold the property.
The movement to help the city acquire the dilapidated studio complex began in 1999, with the formation of a partnership of neighborhood activists, city planners and civic leaders. In 2002, the city completed purchase four of the complex buildings for $260,000. The property consists of a production building, a generator building, a small cottage for visiting actors and a prop shed.
Since acquisition, the city has installed an alarm system and security lighting and made some temporary emergency roofing repairs.
The studio complex is under consideration by the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark.