A Treasure in
the Sunrise City
When the Sunrise Theatre opened to great fanfare in 1923,
nobody knew it was going to become an icon, a mover and
shaker of downtown history, a magnet for business and tourism.
But it has. It became a Cinderella story.
The Sunrise, now on the National Register for Historic Places,
first opened as a movie theater. It drew in a wide variety of
audiences, shoppers and diners to downtown Fort Pierce for
decades. Small businesses and restaurants grew up around it. A
time where writer Zora Neale Hurston wrote books that became
classics. Where the Florida Highwaymen painted and sold art,
eventually entering the Florida Artists Hall of Fame along with
their teacher, famed Florida landscape artist A.E. “Bean” Backus,
who also used to hand paint signs and posters on the facade
that lured in moviegoers.
All was well until shopping centers were built west of the
downtown. The people who flocked to the downtown now
congregated to the malls. Many businesses fled west. The
theater unfortunately closed in 1983 much to the dismay of
those who loved it.
But wait! Like the best stories, this one has a good ending. The
St. Lucie Preservation Society, along with Main Street Fort Pierce,
32 VISIT ST. LUCIE INSPIRATION GUIDE 2023 VISITSTLUCIE.COM
were on the rode to rescue. They bought the old theater and
restored it to its former red and gold glory, truly a jewel in the
middle of the Sunrise City.
Performing again as a magnet when it reopened in 2006, the
aptly named Sunrise breathed new life into the old downtown
as it was converted into a performing arts venue. Streets were
renovated with pavers and quaint streetlights, buildings were