‘They don’t understand what happened here’: Non-profit pushes to restore Norman Studios

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Right now, there’s a push to restore a piece of history in Jacksonville — Norman Studios.

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Already designated as a National Historic Landmark, it produced silent films decades ago that featured all-African-American casts, in positive, non-stereotypical roles.

As a part of our “Gets Real” series, Action News Jax’s Courtney Cole explains the help that’s needed and the plan to make it widely accessible to the community.

“When I found out the story, that this was a race-film studio and that some of the movies that were made here are world-famous,” Rita Reagan knew she had to do whatever she could to maintain Norman Studios.

Here she is 27 years later, working to keep its legacy alive.

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Norman, the president of Norman Studios Silent Film Museum, Inc., told Cole it was originally founded back in 1916 as Eagle Film City. Richard E. Norman bought it in the early 1920s.

“Not everybody puts together the pieces of the puzzle when they see this,” Reagan said.

Some just admire the quaint buildings in passing, while others admire the park.

“But they don’t understand what happened here. For instance, in this building, this is where the actors would stay. Richard Norman would always hire people from Black theater, all around the country to be in his movies,” Reagan passionately explained.

She showed Cole some of the well-preserved movie posters.

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We’ve also included a snippet of the last movie they still have available, called “The Flying Ace.”

The Norman Studios campus comprises five buildings. One of those buildings is owned by a local church, Circle of Faith Ministries, but now the church has decided to move on.

Now, Reagan said they need the city’s help to buy the building.

“We have tried to raise the money,” Reagan said.

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The church has already moved out of the building.

“It’s a step-by-step process. The City has to make the decision that they are going to make an offer to the church, then they have to decide what it’s going to be. The church has to decide if they’re going to take it and then it has to go to City Council,” said Reagan.

Reagan ultimately hopes to restore and reopen the Norman Studios site as a center of research, tourism and learning.

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Action News Jax’s Courtney Cole reached out to Jacksonville City Council member Joyce Morgan to find out more, as Norman Studios falls in her district.

Morgan told Cole via email “Parks Director is working on this. He said we should have the appraisal within the next 30 -45 days and from there the work can begin in earnest to identify possible funding sources.”

“We’re hoping that this all happens this year,” Reagan said.