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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 and first opened its doors on January 6th, 1922. On January 5th, 1922, the eve of the theater’s opening, the DeLand Daily News declared the Athens to be “Florida’s Handsomest Theatre” and “a gem of architecture”. 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”.

Athens in 1922

c. 1922 The opening night performance in January 1922 included a movie, live theatre performance and several
vaudeville acts.

During the Depression, “the Athens Theatre was the only entertainment people could afford”, recounted DeLand historian Bill Dreggors. “The DeLand Amusement Corporation charged only nine cents (for children) because if it was a dime they’d have to pay the state entertainment tax”, he said. Later, promotions with RC Cola allowed patrons to enter free with six RC bottle caps. Originally a vaudeville house and silent movie palace, the Athens Theatre featured live stage shows by touring performers, as well as films of the day that were often accompanied by the theatre’s Wurlitzer Pipe Organ.

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.

Athens in the 70s

1970s - 1990s Through the decades the Athens was used for a movie house, community theatre, prom parties, a restaurant with a video game room and a teen night spot.


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. which is a 501(c)3 non-profit.

Today the Athens Theatre performing company produces 6 Broadway caliber shows per season, presented in a total of over 80 performance. Additionally, there are over 20 independently produced, concerts, dramas, musicals, and other live events. 

Separately, the Athens Theatre Youth Academy operates a summer camp and monthly workshops to educate youth on the various aspects of the performing arts.