Norman Studios, an old silent film studio in Arlington, has been named a national landmark by the National Park Service.
It’s the second ever to be designated in Jacksonville and one of about 2,500 in the nation.
On Friday, Norman Studios Board Chair Rita Reagan was walking around a projection room in one of the Norman Studios buildings, imagining what things used to be like 100 years ago.
“You can just see them sitting here watching the film,” she said.
The five-building complex was built in 1916, then called the Eagle Film Company. In 1920 it became Norman Studios when Richard Norman bought it. And Regan said these studios were unusual because the movies made here were “race films.”
“Films made with all black casts, for black audiences,” she said “And they told wonderful stories about the people and their real lives and showed them in the positive lights, as they often were, but were never shown that way in the movies of that era.”
Norman, a white southerner, made nine all-black films here and lived at the site, Reagan said. The only film left intact is called “The Flying Ace.” Its poster depicts a fiery plane scene.
She said most of actors were locals, but the stars he’d recruit from other states, “they stayed here on campus with the Norman family. It was dangerous really, to be doing what they were doing,” she said.
Reagan said Norman used the help of one of his favorite actors named Peg Reynolds to gain the trust of black theater owners.
Reynolds was black and, “one legged, by the way, on a crutch,” Reagan said.
“How they kept from getting killed by the Klu Klux Klan is beyond me,” Reagan said.
Reagan calls Norman Studios remarkable. To get the landmark status Reagan said she enlisted the help of three graduate students from the University of Central Florida to fill out what she calls “copious paperwork.”
“It commemorates a period of time where there was a transition going on. It was before the Civil Rights movement even started, but we were a Civil Rights location,” Reagan said. “Nobody called it that exactly, but transformative activities were going on here.”
And now it’s a national landmark.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at email@example.com, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.