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The Athens Theatre is one of the few existing examples of a classic American theatre in Central Florida. Once the centerpiece of DeLand, the Athens Theatre is a jewel of Italian Renaissance architecture. This historic theatre was designed in 1921 by prominent Orlando architect Murray S. King. Constructed primarily by DeLand craftsmen and laborers, the facility embodied the very best in design, construction, decoration and equipment. The theatre’s name was derived from the vision of DeLand’s founder, Henry DeLand, who sought to create a city that would be the "Athens of Florida".
During the Depression, "the Athens Theatre was the only entertainment people could afford", recounted DeLand historian Bill Dreggors. Once the entertainment centerpiece of West Volusia County, the showplace evolved through the decades from a vaudeville theater, to a movie house, a place for community theatre and prom parties, a dinner theater, a video game room, a restaurant, a pizza, beer and movie house, and a teen night spot. Dozens remember it as the site of their first date, first kiss, and even as the place to go for a midnight matinee after the high school prom. Following a renovation in the 1950’s, the building deteriorated and eventually closed in the early 1990’s.
In 1993, recognizing the vital part played by The Athens Theatre in downtown DeLand's heritage, MainStreet DeLand Association spearheaded the effort of community leaders and residents to restore the theater to its original splendor. In December, 1994, with the help of a Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation Matching Grant, MainStreet purchased the Athens Theatre for the people of DeLand. Ownership was transferred July, 2004 to Sands Theater Center, Inc.
Today, theatre and film festivals, classic movies, independent art films, concerts, dramas, musicals and other live performances are just a few of the programs that are offered along with lectures and educational activities for students and adults.