The Real, Real First Cinema

an you imagine San Pedro with a first class cinema right on the beach exactly where Caruso, the famous Ristorante Italiano, is located at the Sunbreeze Hotel? Would be pretty romantic, right? Imagine walking out of the cinema, white sandy beach, a big round moon shining on the tranquil Caribbean Sea, gentle waves caressing the shore and you and your loved one sit at a beach palapa to enjoy some popcorn before going home. This was the ambience that Mr. Jim Blake, son of Papa Blake, tried to create 39 years ago with the very first cinema for San Pedro.

The first movies shown here in San Pedro were at the park by the government information service. They were not even movies but documentaries about malaria and cow diseases, etc. cows and agriculture or control of diseases. The entire village of some four hundred inhabitants stood around Central Park to witness such spectacles. We used to call them movies.

Here is the story. It bears some similarities to the first hotel in the Ramon's area that was destroyed by Hurricane Hattie. Jim Blake, who was and still is a big landowner in Ambergris Caye, constructed this all-concrete building on the beach. It' boasted comfortable cushioned seats, a stage and a giant screen (giant to the standards of 1961).

Jim was looking forward to the inauguration of the, cinema when on October 31, 1961, Hurricane Hattie, a category five hurricane hit Belize and San Pedro's beach-was totally wiped out. With it went the Reef Colony Club Hotel that was to be inaugurated as San Pedro's first hotel. And also with it went San Pedro's first cinema which everyone expected to be called Cine Esmeralda, after the name of the property owned by the Blakes.

The entire budding was destroyed, but the foundation and floor remained. For many years the structure stood there alone in-the middle of a fruitless or deserted "cocal" (coconut plantation). Eventually when Sunbreeze took over, the structure was incorporated and built upon. If you go to Caruso at Sunbreeze, you will be sitting on the structure that was supposed to have been San Pedro's very first cinema.

The first cinema to operate was Teatro Arenas owned by Mr. Wilfrido Nuņez Sr. (Fido) (deceased). It is the same building now used as Jaguar's Temple, but used to be located where Fido's Courtyard presently stands. There we enjoyed, twice a week, many Westerns and Mexican movies and in the days of no television, trust me, the place was jammed packed at every showing. The cinema was then passed to Mr. Pedro Salazar, son-in-law of the late Mr. Fido Nuņez and finally displaced by the advent of television.

It was an all zinc sheets building. wooden floor, wooden chairs, a stage and a giant screen. Movies were shown on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. with a special matinee for children on Sundays. This entire cinema was later dismantled and rebuilt in front of Central Park, where Tarzan's lies now. This second cinema was called "Teatro Arenas" and thrilled many young children with blockbuster openings such as "Saturday Night Fever", James Bond's "Moonraker", and the classic Clint Eastwood films such as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

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