Built in 1926 as one of America’s most elaborate “movie palaces,” the Tampa Theatre today is a passionately protected and generously supported landmark. Designed by famed theater architect John Eberson, the Tampa is a superior example of the “atmospheric” style of theater design. Inside Tampa Theatre, audiences are transported to a lavish, romantic Mediterranean courtyard replete with old-world statuary, flowers and gargoyles. Over it all is a nighttime sky filled with twinkling stars.
Like other new movie palaces around the country, Tampa Theatre was enormously popular. For the first time in history, the common person had access to opulence on a scale never before imagined. For 10 cents, they could escape into a fantasyland for two hours, see first class entertainment and be treated like royalty by uniformed platoons of ushers and attendants. By the end of the 1920′s, more than 90 million Americans were going to the movies every week.
For several decades, Tampa 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 Theatre.
But by the 1960s and ’70s, times had changed. America’s flight to the suburbs was having a damaging effect on downtown business districts across the country. Hardest hit were the downtown movie palaces that lit up America’s main streets. Audiences dwindled and costs rose. Many of our nation’s finest movie palaces were demolished because the land beneath them became more valuable than the theater operation.
In 1973, Tampa Theatre faced the same fate. But in Tampa, the city’s citizens rallied. Committees were formed, city leaders became involved, and soon a deal was reached to have the City rescue the Theatre by assuming its leases. The Arts Council of Hillsborough County agreed to program and manage Tampa Theatre with films, concerts and special events. By the time the Theatre reopened in January 1977, it had become something of a national model on how to save an endangered theater.
Today, Tampa Theatre is managed by the not-for-profit Tampa Theatre Foundation and is a remarkable success story. It hosts more than 600 events each 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 1977, Tampa Theater has welcomed more than 5 million guests, including 1 million school children for school field trips and summer camps, all within 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 ticket and concession income. Contributions to the Tampa Theatre Foundation from individuals, companies and foundations help make up difference and keep the Theatre accessible and affordable for everyone.
Tampa Theatre 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.
Click link to view Tampa Tribune photographer Jim Reed’s interactive panoramic image of Tampa Theatre http://tour.tbo.com/tour/stops/tampatheatre.htm
ABOUT TAMPA THEATRE ARCHITECT JOHN EBERSON
Tampa Theatre was created by architectural designer John Eberson, one of the most prolific and internationally renowned movie palace designers of his time. His movie palaces are in Miami; New York; Chicago; Canton, Ohio; Houston and Austin, Texas; Paris, France; Sydney, Australia and many other cities.
Eberson was born in Romania, attended The University of Vienna in 1893, and settled in St. Louis, Missouri. While his early theater commissions could be characterized as traditional, by the mid-1910s Eberson had clearly forged a new direction with the Dallas Majestic Theatre (1917). His first truly atmospheric theater was the Houston Majestic (1923).
John Eberson tells how Florida inspired his atmospheric theatre design:
“I have been wintering in Florida for the past several years, and it is from this state that I got the atmospheric idea. I was impressed with the colorful scenes that greeted me at Miami, Palm Beach and Tampa. Visions of Italian gardens, Spanish patios, Persian shrines and French formal gardens flashed through my mind, and at once I directed my energies to carrying out these ideas.” -The Tampa Tribune, October 15, 1926.
FAST FACTS ABOUT TAMPA THEATRE
Opened: October 15, 1926
Architect: John Eberson
Architectural Style: Florida Mediterranean (includes touches of Italian Renaissance, Byzantine, Spanish, Mediterranean, Greek Revival, Baroque and English Tudor)
Original Construction Cost: $1.2 million
Construction Time: 1 year
First Movie: “The Ace of Cads” starring Adolph Menjou (silent film)
Movie Ticket price in 1926: 25 cents
Acquired by the City of Tampa: 1976
Named to the National Register of Historic Places: 1978
Declared a Tampa City Landmark: 1988
Managed by: The Tampa Theatre Foundation
Longest Employment Tenure: 45 years 1926-71 (Blondelle Gladney, box office cashier)
Number of Seats: 1,446
Number of events annually: 600+
Average Annual Attendance: 150,000+
Number of stars in auditorium ceiling: 99
Number of tiles on the lobby floor: 245,185
Number of Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ pipes: about 1,400
Programming: specialty film, classic movies, concerts, special events, corporate events, field trips, weddings, graduations, production location, tours