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Tampa Theatre
Exterior of venue (c.2006)
Full name Tampa Theatre Building
Address 711 N Franklin St
Tampa, FL 33602-4435
Location Downtown Tampa
Owner City of Tampa
Operator The Arts Council of Hillsborough County
Capacity 1,252
Broke ground April 12, 1925 (1925-04-12)
Opened October 15, 1926 (1926-10-15)
Renovated 1976-77; 1992; 2009; 2011-12; 2017
Construction cost $1.2 million
($14.6 million in 2018 dollars2018)
Architect John Eberson
Tampa Theatre
Architectural style Mediterranean Revival
NRHP reference No. 78000945
Added to NRHP January 3, 1978

The Tampa Theatre is a historic U.S. theater and city landmark in Downtown Tampa, Florida. Designed as an atmospheric theatre style movie palace by architect John Eberson, it opened on October 15, 1926.

The theatre features a wide range of independent, foreign, and documentary films. It is Tampa's only non-profit movie palace, and operating costs are supported by its members, donors and corporate sponsors, as well as by ticket and concessions sales. It has often been used as a backdrop for movies, music videos and local programming.


Tampa architectural photos 229
Tampa Theatre box office, 2012

Tampa Theatre was the first commercial building in Tampa to offer air conditioning, which provided appeal during Florida's sweltering summer months. Inside the Tampa, audiences are transported to a lavish, romantic Mediterranean courtyard replete with old world statuary, flowers, and gargoyles. Over it all is a nighttime sky with twinkling stars and floating clouds.

A movie palace it features an opulent interior and employed uniformed platoons of ushers and attendants. By the end of the 1920s, more than 90 million Americans were going to the movies every week. For several decades, the theatre remained a jewel and the centerpiece of Tampa's cultural landscape. People grew up, stole their first kisses in the balcony, followed the weekly newsreels, and celebrated life week after week by coming back to the Tampa.

By the 1960s and 70s, times had changed. America's flight to suburbs was having a damaging effect on downtown business districts across the country. Hardest hit were the downtown movie palaces which dotted America's urban landscapes. Audiences dwindled and costs rose. Many of our nation's finest movie palaces were quickly demolished before anyone noticed because the land beneath them became more valuable than the theatre operation.

In 1973, the theatre faced the same fate. But the citizens rallied and committees were formed. City leaders became involved, and soon a deal was reached to have the City rescue the Tampa Theatre by assuming its leases. The Arts Council of Hillsborough County agreed to program and manage the Tampa Theatre with films, concerts and special events. By the time the Theatre reopened in early 1978, the Tampa Theatre had become something of a national model on how to save an endangered theater.

Tampa architectural photos 226
Tampa Theatre logo etched on one of its windows

In 1992, restorations efforts were led by the Tampa Theatre Foundation after the building caught fire in 1991. The theatre presents and hosts over 600 events a year including a full schedule of first run and classic films, concerts, special events, corporate events, tours and educational programs. The Theatre is one of the most heavily utilized venues of its kind in the United States.

Since its rescue in 1978, the theatre has welcomed over five million guests including over one million school children for school field trips and summer camps in the context of one of Tampa's largest historic preservation projects.

Community support and contributions are critical to the Theatre's continued success and viability. In spite of its successes, the theatre only earns about 60% of its annual operating budget through earned income. Contributions to the Tampa Theatre Foundation from individuals, companies and foundations help to make up difference and keep the building accessible and affordable for everyone.

It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, is a Tampa City Landmark, and is a member of the League of Historic American Theatres.

The theatre has undergone many restoration projects to maintain its original splendor as well as equipment upgrades to provide a modern movie-going experience. The most recent restoration project was the replacement of the marquee which includes the vertical blade sign and the canopy. The completion of this major facelift was marked by the Marquee Lighting Ceremony which took place on January 16, 2004.

The theatre operates The Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ and the instrument is played before nightly films. The organ is played and maintained by a team of volunteer organists from the Central Florida Theatre Organ Society.

In the spring of 2013, during its 86th year of existence, efforts began to convert to digital picture and sound (with the exception of productions that are only available in the movie reel format) and screened a free showing of Samsara to celebrate the transition. The switch to digital—in anticipation of an industry change whereby all new releases will only be available in digital format—occurred at a cost of $150,000.

In late 2017, the Theatre closed for six weeks to complete the first phase of its long term restoration plan, a $6 million renovation that updated the electrical systems, re-seated the auditorium with seats designed to match the original look from 1926, added a new and expanded concessions stand and bar, installed a new emergency power system, and protected the building from storms by installing new storm rated windows and doors on the Florida Avenue side of the building. The seating capacity was reduced from 1,446 to 1,238 to improve comfort and leg room. New carpet, designed to match the original 1926 design, was installed, as well as a new grand drape and valance for the proscenium arch also designed to match the original.

The lobby paint and plaster was painstakingly restored to its original palette by crews from EverGreene Studios, in New York, including the replication of four tapestries to replace the faded and worn tapestries from 1926. The original tapestries were transferred to the Tampa Bay History Center for preservation.

Noted performers


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