1. Who built the Tampa Theatre?
Paramount Studios heavily financed Tampa Theatre’s construction in collaboration with other private investors. It is rumored that financial 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: theaters are people magnets that bring potential customers to their doors. In the 1920s, more than 3,000 movie theaters were built across America, and about 300 of these were grand enough to be labeled a “movie palace.”
2. Why is Tampa Theatre so elaborate?
In the 1920s, studios often owned or had major interests in theaters. It is no coincidence that some famous movie palace names of the 1920s 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 theaters, not movies.”
The Great Depression of the 1930′s effectively halted new theatre construction, and when Congress forced studios to divest themselves of theatres as part of major anti-trust legislation in 1948, the age of the elaborate movie palace came to an end.
3. Who designed Tampa Theatre?
Famed theater architect John Eberson was commissioned to design the Tampa Theatre. Eberson was considered one of the top movie palace architects in America and an innovative pioneer who created “atmospheric” theaters with the illusion that you are outside in a romantic courtyard at night. His spectacular theaters wowed patrons with their imaginative approach and delighted theater owners with lower construction costs than more traditional designs. To achieve the atmospheric effect, he installed a smooth, 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 Tampa Theatre today?
The Theatre’s real estate was, at one time, a very complex and vexing problem which, if left unresolved, would have posed a threat to Tampa Theatre’s preservation.
Although the City stepped in during the 1970s to rescue the building from an uncertain future, the City did not buy the real estate; it merely assumed the complex land and building leases that run through the year 2023. These leases contained no options for renewal beyond 2023, leaving open the possibility that the Theatre could be lost. (Even though Tampa 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: one lease for the entrance and lobby, and two leases with two different owners for the land under the auditorium. The Theatre’s non-profit Tampa Theatre Foundation acquired one of the auditorium land leases in 2005 from the Scottish family that owned it.
To ensure the Theatre’s preservation, the Theatre Foundation negotiated a deal to purchase the lobby, the flower shop next door and another ground floor space in the office tower 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 Tampa Theatre over the years. Modern day artists such as Annie Lennox, David Byrne, George Thorogood, Ray Charles, B. B. King, Aimee Mann, Joan Baez 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 the stage, as have political leaders such as former president George Bush, Bob Dole and Jesse Jackson, and authros like David Sedaris and Khaled Hosseini.
Less celebrated but just as important are scores of performances for school children that are part of Hillsborough County’s Theatre Field Trip Program. This program brings an average of 35,000 school children to Tampa Theatre each year to see educational children’s theatre in the context of a major historic preservation project.
Performers love playing Tampa Theatre for the same reasons audiences love seeing them here: it is a very intimate venue that puts the audience and the artist close to each other in a spectacular setting.
6. Who books The Theatre’s films?
Tampa Theatre contracts with a film booker in California who negotiates with film distributors to schedule our contemporary, first-run features and many of our classic film series.
7. Why can’t the Theatre break even? Why does Tampa Theatre 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 large, complex, aging facility, and the overhead and maintenance costs are substantial. With only 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 theaters like this one, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named downtown single-screen theaters to its annual “most endangered places” list.
8. Can a company rent out The Tampa for a special event?
Yes. The theatre 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 Tampa Theatre as the backdrop. Click here for rental rates, policies, specifications, and contact information.
9. Is Tampa Theatre financially sound?
Yes, but the Theatre’s future is not yet guaranteed. Although the management team keeps Tampa Theatre active with films, concerts and special events, it does need private sector support to fund restoration projects, build audiences and guarantee the 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, operating an entertainment enterprise in a highly competitive environment isn’t necessarily one of them. The City provides basic maintenance support, but support for programming and 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 Tampa Theatre. 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? Indeed. Tampa Theatre does not have an elevator.