Although I grew up in North Palm Beach, we often drove south to catch movies. In the mid to late seventies when I was a teenager, there weren’t all that many movie theatres around. Never any of the mega-movie plexes you see now, if there were six separate screens in one building, it was huge!
One of our favorites was in West Palm Beach along the east side of South Dixie Highway. My best friend and I drove south in her white Comet to catch the latest movies. One time we drove through the rain and flooded streets only to scream as the car decided it didn’t want to stop in the where we wanted to park and nearly hit the surrounding cement wall. Our destination? The Carefree Theatre.
The Carefree Center, which opened in 1936, was an ice cream shop and a laundry when Elias Chalhub bought the property and expanded in into an entertainment mecca that included a bowling alley and soda fountain. The Carefree Theatre was built as an addition and first opened in 1947, decades before we slid through the parking lot in 1976. The theatre was big and cavernous. Those were the days when going to the movies meant a night of entertainment. No cell phones rang during the presentation and the guy in front of you wasn’t checking his cell for “important” text messages every couple of minutes. (Seriously? Is he a nuclear physicist the President is trying to contact to save the world? A brain surgeon on call?) We sat in the dark munching popcorn and dreaming of one day being movie stars.
The site later became the Comedy Club where for a two-drink minimum, one could sit and laugh until one’s sides hurt. We always held off bathroom trips as long as we could because if we stood up to head to the restrooms, the comedian would attack and the entire room would turn to watch us, the victims, slink out of the room. Larry the Cable Guy was one of the locals who got his foot in the door to the comedy world through the club at the Carefree.
In yet another incarnation, the site held live shows and concerts. Big names and movie festivals appeared until the hurricanes of 2004 (Charley, Jeanne and Ivan) when the roof of the building was so damaged, the building had to be closed. The building is still there—78 years after it was built, but no one goes in these days.When I find myself in a movie metroplex these days, I often take a minute or two to close my eyes and remember how it felt to sit in a padded chair in a large, dark room... the only light coming in fits and starts from the action on the screen that filled the wall at the front... the slight clacking sound that came out of the little square high on the wall behind us as the movie film ran through the projector. The smell of popcorn takes me back—at least until a cell phone rings.