1. Who built the Tampa Theatre?
Paramount Studios heavily financed the Tampa Theatre’s construction in collaboration with other private investors. It is rumored that financing assistance was provided by The Maas brothers, who wanted the most elaborate movie palace in Florida to be next to their department store for the same reasons that shopping malls today want multiplexes in or next to them: theatres are people magnets and bring potential customers to their doors. In the 1920′s over 3,000 movie theatres were built all across America, and about 300 of these were grand enough to be labeled a “movie palace”.
2. Why is the Tampa Theatre so elaborate?
In the 1920′s, studios often owned or had major interests in theatres. It is no coincidence that some famous movie palace names of the 1920′s were also studio names: the “Paramount”, the “Fox”, and “United Artists”. Because the young movie industry had an almost total monopoly on popular entertainment, studios were awash with cash and were able to finance and build ever more elaborate palaces in which to showcase their products. Marcus Loew, one of the movie palace moguls, summed it up by saying, “We sell tickets to theatres, not movies.”
The Great Depression of the 1930′s effectively halted new theatre construction, and when Congress forced studios in 1948 to divest themselves of theatres as part of major anti-trust legislation, the age of the elaborate movie palace came to an end.
3. Who designed the Tampa Theatre?
Famed theatre architect John Eberson was commissioned to design the Tampa Theatre. Eberson was considered one of the top movie palace architects in America, an innovative pioneer who created the “atmospheric” style of theatres — the illusion that you are outside in a romantic courtyard at night. His spectacular theatres wowed patrons with their imaginative approach — and delighted theatre owners with lower construction costs than more traditional designs. To achieve the atmospheric affect he used a smooth blue plaster domed ceiling with 10-watt electric twinkling stars and projected clouds. He also created whimsical and elaborate facades of plaster populated with reproductions of famous statuary.
4. Who owns the Tampa Theatre today?
The Theatre’s real estate had been a very complex and vexing problem which, if left unresolved, posed a threat to Tampa Theatre’s preservation.
Although the City stepped in during the 1970’s to rescue the building from an uncertain future, the City did not buy the real estate – it merely assumed the complex series of land and building leases that ran through the year 2023. These leases contained no options for renewal beyond 2023, so if unresolved there was the possibility that the Theatre could be lost. (Even though the Theatre is a Tampa City Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places, these designations do not provide absolute protection for the property.)
Three leases existed: a lease for the entrance and lobbies, and two leases with different owners for the land under the auditorium. The Theatre’s non-profit Tampa Theatre Foundation acquired ownership of one of the auditorium land leases in 2005 from the Scottish family which owned it.
To ensure the Theatre’s preservation, the Theatre Foundation negotiated a deal to purchase the lobbies, the flower shop and another ground floor space adjacent to the lobby. The City of Tampa supported the deal and provided a grant of $2,000,000 from the Community Investment Tax fund. In return the Theatre Foundation acquired the property and immediately conveyed the title of the property to the City. This deal was completed on September 30, 2009.
With the completion of this deal, there now remains only one remaining ground lease in place, which is the privately owned 50% undivided interest in the land under the auditorium. This lease also expires in 2023, but because the City and the Theatre Foundation control the other 50% interest, the existence of this lease does not pose a preservation threat to the Theatre.
5. Besides films, what other events does The Tampa host?
Many famous performers, celebrities and politicians have appeared at The Tampa over the years. Modern day artists such as Annie Lennox, David Byrne, George Thorogood, Ray Charles, B. B. King, Aimee Mann, Joan Baez, Bright Eyes, and Harry Connick, Jr., have performed. Comedians such as Roseanne Barr, Carrot Top, Sinbad, and Sandra Bernhard have appeared. Speakers such as Nobel Prize winner Elie Weisel and scientist Jane Goodall have graced our stage, as have political leaders such as former president George Bush, Bob Dole, and Jesse Jackson, and writers like David Sedaris.
Less celebrated but just as important are scores of performances for school children each year that are part of Hillsborough County’s Theatre Field Trip Program. This program brings an average of 35,000 school children a year to The Tampa to see educational children’s theatre in the context of a major historic preservation project.
Performers love playing The Tampa for the same reasons audiences love seeing them here: Tampa Theatre is a very intimate venue that puts the audience and the artist close to each other in a spectacular setting.
6. Who books The Tampa’s films?
For our contemporary, first-run features film, The Tampa contracts with a film booker who negotiates with film distributors and book films. Our film program manager books our classic film events.
7. Why can’t the Theatre break-even? Why does The Tampa need contributions to balance its budget?
Simply put, the economic conditions that existed in 1926 no longer exist in today’s marketplace. Tampa Theatre is a very large, complex, and aging facility, and the overhead and maintenance costs are substantial. With a single screen, the theatre cannot realize the economies of scale enjoyed by modern multiplexes.
Tampa Theatre’s plight is not unique. America’s downtown movie palaces have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the past 30 years. Because of the economic pressures facing theatres like the Tampa Theatre, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named downtown single-screen theatres to its annual “most endangered places” list.
8. Can a company rent out The Tampa for a special event?
Yes. The theatre already hosts many corporate events each year. Companies such as Verizon, SouthWest Airlines, SunTrust, the Tampa Tribune, Bank of America, and HBO have created memorable events for their employees and clients using The Tampa as the centerpiece. Click here for rental rates, policies, specifications, and contact information.
9. Is the Tampa Theatre financially sound?
Yes, but the theatre’s future is not yet guaranteed. Although The Tampa’s management team keeps the theatre active with films, concerts and special events, the Tampa needs private sector support to fund restoration projects, build audiences, and guarantee the Theatre’s financial stability in the future.
10. Why doesn’t the City just pay for everything the Theatre needs?
Without the City of Tampa, the Tampa Theatre would be a parking lot today. But while city governments can do many things well, being fully responsible for operating an entertainment enterprise in a highly competitive environment is not one of them. The City provides basic maintenance support, but support for programming, major restoration projects and creating an endowment for long-term financial security are best accomplished with private sector leadership and involvement.
11. How can I help?
There are many ways you can help support our efforts. Memberships for individuals and corporations are available that offer a variety of attractive benefits. Your company could sponsor a Tampa Theatre special event, or you can make a contribution to the Theatre’s Restoration Fund.
Finally, don’t forget that one of the best ways to support the Tampa is simply to buy a ticket and attend an event!
For more information on memberships, sponsorships and the Restoration Fund, contact the business office at 813-274-8286, visit our website at www.tampatheatre.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
12. Is the balcony upstairs? Yes.