Memories of the historic Tampa Theatre

 

Tampa Theatre

My personal history of Tampa Theatre dates to the reopening of the theatre in the seventies. January of 1977 was the debut of the refurbished downtown landmark theatre. I remember seeing Blondie on tour at Tampa Theatre, plus holiday showings of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and other classic films. In addition to small venue concerts and classics, innovative films like “Pulp Fiction” were (and still are) screened there.

One of the funniest experiences I remember at the theatre was a unique showing of “13 Ghosts”, a film by director William Castle, whose trademark was using lots of gimmicks and that included personally introducing his films to the audience before they screened. The theatre provided the 3D glasses as Castle explained that one side of the glass lens would show the film without the ghosts, and the other lens projected the image of the ghosts streaming past. It did work!

The mighty Wurlitzer organ is a staple of the auditorium and classic films are still screened at Tampa Theatre. This year, they are featuring a Summer Film Series with screenings of:

The Wizard of Oz-June 7
Key Largo-June 14
Caddyshack-June 21
Vertigo-June 28
Back to the Future-July 5
Top Hat-July 12
Breakfast at Tiffany’s-July 19
Sing a long Sound of Music-July 26

The history of the theatre remains a rich and unique one. Tampa Theatre was built in 1926, at the height of an era where lavish movie palaces flourished throughout the states. Well known theater architect John Eberson designed the interior, where the moviegoer was transported into an old-world style of Mediterranean architecture, replete with gilded statuary and gargoyles. The signature characteristic of the theater is the beautiful night sky that encompasses the venue and surrounds the patrons with twinkling stars. (I’ll admit there have been a few “clunkers” of movies that were made bearable by simply sitting back and taking in the aura of the unique night vista that surrounds you!)

For the average movie goer of the late 1920’s, it would have been a glorious treat to go to a movie palace for 25 cents and escape into the wonderland that is imagined in one of these beautiful old theaters. Tampa Theatre was but one of several elegant movie palaces that were built in downtown Tampa. The first time I saw “The Sound of Music” was at the old Florida theatre where we watched the film in one of the beautiful balcony seats. Sadly, the Florida is no more. So many of these places were knocked down to make way for modern buildings. But the good news is that many of these places out of time have been preserved throughout the United States.

The history of the renovation of Tampa Theatre is well documented. But the history of all of these old movie palaces is preserved in the League of Historic American Theatres. (LHAT). The website showcases and documents an impressive number of old movie palaces and wonderful restorations from a bygone era. The League is active throughout the United States and even in Canada!

In Tampa, there was a listing of at least 67 landmark theatres and buildings listed on a website called Cinematreasures.org. They included theatres that were demolished and some that are still in use. Drive in movies are also on the list in keeping with our American heritage which includes going to the movies.

Residents of the Tampa Bay area may be interested in checking out some of the other sites preserved in the area, the Cuban Club and the Ritz theatre in nearby Ybor City, and the Friday Morning Musicale in Hyde Park, which still hosts small musical performances and events.

Please let me know if you have fond memories of a particular film or event at Tampa Theatre in years past. The Tampa Natives group in particular may have some stories to tell of special times at the Theatre! Leave your comments here or e-mail me at mljtpa@6degreeswriter.com. Look forward to hearing from you!

Published by

MLJ

Author of "6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village", Ms. Johnson continues to blog on film and publishes a newsletter plus the Flipboard magazine 6 Degrees of Film @ the Movies. Her book is currently available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Degrees-Film-Future-Global-Village/

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