Alhambra founder’s legacy lives on years later

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Alhambra Theater and Dining in Jacksonville recently lost one of its founders with the passing of Ted Johnson at 86 years old.

Johnson came up with the initial idea for the Alhambra, and 54 years later his vision is still going strong.

Current Alhambra owner Craig Smith initially met Johnson years ago before he became owner of the theater in 2009, as they were both Rotarians.

Smith was always amazed at the great foresight Johnson demonstrated in the creation of the theater.

“The man made decisions in 1967 that still have a lasting effect on myself and others today,” Smith said. “Without him, there would not be an Alhambra.”

One of the things that Smith enjoyed most was the appreciation he often received from Johnson.

“I did not have a conversation with him in the last 10 years without either he or his wife mentioning how proud they were with how the theater turned out all these years later,” Smith said.

Chuck Day was able to get acquainted with Johnson while he was working on gathering information for the Alhambra’s 50th anniversary publication in 2017.

Day recalled that Johnson had his share of doubters that questioned whether building a theater along Beach Boulevard was the right financial thing to do.

“Back then, Beach Boulevard west of Kernan, where the theater is today, was in the middle of nowhere,” Day said.

Although Johnson stepped away from his ownership role with the theater in the 1970s, it still held a special place in his heart, which Day said remained evident decades later.

However, the theater made quite the name for itself in those early days, as it hosted some bigtime Hollywood stars in its productions, including being the site of Betty Grable’s last performance in 1973.

Other stars to grace the stage in Johnson’s days of ownership were Don Ameche, Vivian Vance and Mickey Rooney.

“At one point during the late ‘60s and ‘70s, there were hundreds of dinner theaters across the country,” Day said. “The Alhambra is now the oldest continually operated dinner theater in the country. I would argue that it is stronger now than it ever has been. It’s got a strong following, and it has continued to be the thing to do in Jacksonville.”

Alhambra customer experience manager Becky Uibel is one who has been part of that strong following throughout the years.

She remembers seeing shows there with her mom growing up and has now worked 27 years with the theater. She even met her husband at the theater.

“Ted just had an appreciation of theater,” Uibel said. “There are a lot of people that wouldn’t have their families without his influence on their lives,” Uibel said. “He touched a lot of lives, even more than he knew.”

Not only did Johnson leave a lasting mark on the local performing arts scene, but he also played an important role in helping put Jacksonville on the map as a place that can offer top notch professional entertainment.

“The local leaders owe a big thanks to Ted for everything that he was able to accomplish and make happen,” Smith said.

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