The current Ritz Theatre and Museum is at the site of the original Ritz Theater, an art deco style movie house built in 1929. The original Ritz Theater was a central part of the the African American La Villa community. During La Villa’s height of activity in the 1920s-1960s, it was known as the “Harlem of the South” and the clubs on nearby Ashley Street attracted top jazz and blues acts from around the country.
The mission of the Ritz Theatre and Museum is to “research, record, and preserve the material and artistic culture of African American life in Northeast Florida and the African Diaspora, and present in an educational or entertaining format the many facets that make up the historical and cultural legacy of this community.” Today the Ritz Theatre seamlessly blends old and new, classic and contemporary, bringing diverse musical and theatrical styles onto the same stage to celebrate the rich heritage of African American music and culture. All stage performances take place in an intimate, 400-seat auditorium where Archbishop Desmond Tutu presided over an emotionally charged blessing of the building’s opening.