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 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 Look forward to hearing from you!

The Wizard of Oz showing Sunday at 3:00 pm at Tampa Theatre


**The Wizard of Oz will be shown this weekend, Sunday September 4th, at Tampa Theatre. This is a reprint of an earlier post… Here’s the link to another Wizard of Oz post-this one is definitely on my top 10 list of Favorite Films of all time!

Wiz of oz 1

So much has been written about this very special film. And when someone recently asked me, a person that has screened hundreds if not thousands of movies through the years, what my favorite film is, The Wizard of Oz just popped out. It came out in a year, 1939, when so many spectacular films were released, that it could have simply disappeared if it had not been so dynamic and magical.

But the cast and crew were perfectly suited to the material. And the fantasy seemed to work for a world on the verge of a horribly cruel war. The timeless innocence of the characters and the beautiful colors and memorable scenes all melded together to create this magical vision of a life beyond our own plane of existence.

In some ways, the Cinematic Universe that many have credited George Lucas with creating in Star Wars is a place that was already imagined in this realm somewhere over the rainbow in another galaxy far, far away. The validation for our love of this film comes when we hear that many new devotees of the film are citizens of the international community as they screen this movie for children and adults who are living in refugee camps. The timeless quality of this film transcends the boundaries of speech and culture.

Here is one amusing note about the origins of the characters in the Wizard of Oz. Of course, the film is based on a series of children’s books by L Frank Baum. And when it was published in 1900, the characters of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion were said to have a dual meaning.

The Wizard of Oz story was seen by some as a parable for the US Gold Standard in the late 1800’s. The Scarecrow represented the US Farmers. And the Tin Man was representative of the industrial workers, who faced a staggering unemployment rate of 18%! Hence, the Tin Man is seen as beleaguered and completely frozen.

The Cowardly Lion was representative of William Jennings Bryan, the famous statesman who was also a strong proponent for keeping on the Gold Standard. And the Emerald City was said to represent Washington D.C., where one can only see through a lens of green (which meant money). The Gold Standard would be the famous Yellow Brick Road that Dorothy follows at the urging of the Munchkins. Following the Yellow Brick road would mean staying on the Gold Standard.

All of this is conjecture, but it’s a fun and different way to view a film most of us have seen many times before. Even after many viewings, the film still manages to stay fresh and endearing as it was at its debut back in 1939.

Some other facts about The Wizard of Oz. The famous film version with Judy Garland was actually the third movie adaptation of the book. The first film was made in 1910 and the second silent version, from 1925, featured a promising actor named Oliver Hardy who played the Tin Man.

Tampa Theatre will screen “The Wizard of Oz” this Sunday, June 7th at 3:00 pm.