Mike loves historic buildings. But he knows that the older they get, the harder it is to keep everything working right and to make them look as good as they did when they were new. (Sort of like dogs and people.) He says that every now and then they outlive their usefulness, and when that happens they face being torn down. So it was with mixed but mostly sad feelings that he followed the recent tearing-down of the Stover Theatre, an 82-year-old building on the campus of Stetson University.
There was a lot of arguing that went on in the months before the theater was finally demolished in mid-August. Many people wanted to save the building, and the DeLand Historic Preservation Board recommended to the City Commission that it turn down the university's request for permission to scrap it. The Commission said thank you for your input and then told Stetson they could go ahead and get rid of Stover, which Stetson promptly did.
One thing that Mike found pretty sneaky about the whole process was a "talking point" that university leaders kept feeding to the newspapers and TV stations, to help convince people to go along with their demolition plan. This was the highly debatable argument that the building was never meant to be a theater, but instead was intended only as an assembly hall.
Mike taught at Stetson for 25 years and knows a lot about the history of the Stover Theatre, including the fact that for the first eight years after it was built, it was called the "Women's Assembly Hall." But he also knows that this name had been made up by Dr. Lincoln Hulley, the university's president in 1930, so the Florida Baptists would sign off on its construction. (For most of its history, Stetson was controlled by the Florida Baptists, who were very conservative and very anti-theater.) Now, 82 years later, the same ploy that was invented to get the okay to build the Stover was dusted off and used again to help justify tearing it down! Crazy, huh? You can't make this stuff up.
As for the notion that Stover wasn't meant to be a theater, Mike points out that the first play performed in the "Women's Assembly Hall" opened just a week after the building's dedication. And the play, which was called Apollo and the Muses, was written by that same President Hulley! Mike's pretty sure it had to have been in rehearsal for several weeks prior to the dedication. What's more, Dr. Hulley had penned a whole raft of plays, and from 1930 until he died in 1934, they were regularly performed in the Women's Assembly Hall. Not meant to be a theater? Give me a break!
Mike was so ticked off when he realized what a one-sided story the university was peddling that he decided to set the record straight. He wrote an article and sent it to our hometown newspaper, The West Volusia Beacon, to see if they would run it as an op-ed piece. Unfortunately, it was about 600 words too long. But the editor liked it a lot and agreed to publish the whole thing online. She also trimmed the submission down to half-a-page and ran it as a Guest Commentary in last weekend's print edition.
So you can see what we're talking about, here's a picture of the Stover Theatre as it looked in 1930:
Notice the little box office window in the middle of the front wall, as well as the overhanging marquee. Mike says that women's assembly halls hardly ever have those. But theaters usually do. And the big tall part of the building that sticks up in the back, over the stage--that's called a fly loft, and it houses machinery used for changing sets and operating curtains between a play's different acts. (Or perhaps between women's assemblies, if you work in Stetson's PR office!)
The remaining photos are from articles that appeared in The Beacon shortly before and during the demolition. Here's one from this past June:
Those capital letters across the top speak volumes, don't they? But once the demolition started, the name was one of the first things to go:
That last picture is the one that ran alongside Mike's Guest Commentary. He calls it the "Stover Cratre."
Here's a link to a PDF file of Mike's article--the complete one as it appeared at The Beacon online:
Feel free to download this document to your computer and to email it to your friends. Maybe the Stover Theatre wasn't worth saving. But her mysterious story certainly is!
The Beacon, by the way, is the same paper that 28 months ago sent a reporter out to our house to interview Mike and Jeannie about how I decided to let them live with me. She wrote a nice article that also appeared both online and in print. If you have a few extra minutes, please follow this link and take a look.