At 1011 22nd Street South, in the heart of the historic 22nd Street Business District, a long blue mural as high as a person stretches the length of a surprising, World War Two-era Quonset hut-style building, topped with a curving half-moon corrugated metal roof.
The mural on the Royal Theater is 6 feet high and 133 feet long. It’s the first historic building to become part of the SHINE Festival.
The Royal Theater opened in 1948, in the heart of St. Petersburg’s African-American community. The 700-seat movie theatre served African Americans during the segregation era. Films, live entertainment and talent shows played to packed crowds in its heyday.
The theater closed in 1966 and underwent a major renovation in 2003. It now houses the Southside Boys and Girls Club, part of the national nonprofit focused on helping kids succeed in school, live healthy lives and become leaders.
The Royal Theatre was hailed as “an inspiration for the whole community” when it opened. It’s now a focal point of the revival of the 22nd Street South neighborhood.
Artist Brian McAlister worked with the community on the design. McAlister teaches at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, and leads the Gibbs High Mural Club. Brian was allowed to take 10 students each day out of school as a field trip, to paint the mural along with members of the Boys and Girls Club program.
The background of the mural is black. It starts on the left with the history of the movie theater – and an old-fashioned black and white reel of film so large it’s cut off by the top and bottom edges of the mural.
Beside it is a giant bottle cap, several feet across – because back then, if kids brought in a bottle cap, they could see the movies for free. Other bottle caps fly are scattered, in motion, along the wall.
The words of the Boys and Girls Clubs motto – ‘Great Futures Start Here’ – spread across the wall in wide squared-off capital letters outlined in white and as high as the mural, filling the space with just a narrow strip of black above and below.
The mural is a panorama in vivid motion – with images in shades of grey, like an old black and white photograph. Inside the letters that spell Great Futures Start Here, the images continue uninterrupted, but in shades of blue.
A giant scattering of popcorn. Actor Angela Basset in a sleeveless 1940s dress, hair flowing down her back, smiling at us over her shoulder. A ticket to the Royal Theatre curving through the air. Football players on a field, tennis player Serena Williams, with splashes of paint surrounding flying tennis balls like cartoon explosions. Palm trees, a detailed trumpet with a geyser of sound splashing up from the bell. An enormous paintbrush laying down a stroke of paint. A huge old-fashioned microphone. Two little girls, writing, concentrating, as a kind teacher between them leans over to help. And at the far right edge, after the word Here, a pelican looking back over his shoulder, shaded by a palm tree with an abstract wave breaking in the background.
All the people represented on the mural have some connection to St. Petersburg or to the Boys and Girls Clubs. The little girls working with their teacher are students in the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, Royal Theater Club.
The mural shows the building’s history unfolding like a film, starting as a movie theater and becoming an arts program.