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!

The Artist: Capsule Review for 6 Degrees of Film

The Artist is playing this weekend at Tampa Theatre. This review was originally published on 6 Degrees of Film in 2012. Here’s the updated version:

THe Artist T Theatre

One of the best sequences in “The Artist”, the Academy-Award winning black & white silent film, is the one where sound is used. That’s not to say that films without sound are not worth seeing. Some of the most moving sequences ever filmed have been moments that have no sound. Liam Neeson had the role in “Suspect” where he plays a mute, and it was apparent early on that he was the only one in a cast that included Cher with real acting chops. In “There Will be Blood” one of the most creative sequences in this dark look into the psyche of a self-made 19th Century robber baron was the opening of the film where Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t speak for a good ten minutes into the film. In The Artist the scene where the very successful and extremely egotistical star dismisses the viewing of the “talkies” as a fad finds him waking up in a cold sweat in the night after he dreams of hearing sound on film where none had been before. That is perhaps one of the more creative moments in the film. This film stands really as a series of vignettes, a kind of homage to the way that early films were made.

They were short one-reelers and like the one and two-reelers, you could find the plot of this film written out on a half page of notebook paper. Boy meets girl, they fall in love; conflict ensues; they overcome obstacles to be together; the Denouement-Finis-The End.

That really is a short history of the movies encapsulated in this film. The power of silent film has been lost on so many generations that have missed out on much that was conveyed through film in the silent era, Actor and Comic Bill Murray recently spoke of watching a DW Griffith silent film in France that was totally riveting. It seems the French have a higher appreciation of the silent medium in general. I don’t believe that just everyone would simply fall in love with this movie. That is conveyed in the box office numbers, which show this film to be probably the least viewed of any Academy Award winner in recent years. It is not an action flick or a comedy or a chick flick. It is a film about film in the sense that it conveys some messages about the appreciation of a medium-silent film- that is not in existence save for a few random viewings on select cable channels. This is the nature of show business and this film is unique in that there are less than six degrees of association to arrive at the beginning history of film. It serves as a perfect example for anyone interested in the history of film, and it’s definitely a must see for those playing the game of “Six Degrees of Film!”