Tampa Theatre Stories Project
You can participate in The Tampa Theatre Stories Project by telling us your stories. They can be from yesteryear or yesterday, meandering anecdotes filled with details or a single paragraph. With your permission, we’ll post the stories here on the site for everyone to read. Please email your stories to email@example.com. Thanks!
Over 50 years ago, a couple of smitten teenagers would see movies at Tampa Theatre every Saturday night. They sat in the balcony, underneath the stars, held hands, fell in love and eventually married. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by taking a tour of Tampa Theatre.
More recently, a man brought his sweetheart to see Tampa Theatre. To demonstrate the theatre’s fine unplugged acoustics, he stood on the stage and directed her to the balcony. He then dropped on one knee and proposed. (She said, “yes”).
Tampa Theatre is an important part of Tampa’s history not only because of its spectacular architecture, but because of the role that the theatre has played in the lives of patrons and staff members. The purpose of this on-going project is to document those experiences.
Bill Schultz, Tampa Theatre Manager 1950-52
I was the assistant manager of the Tampa Theatre from 1950 through 1952. The manager was O.G. Finley. His brother, Foster Finley, known to his friends as “Fink”, was one of the projectionists there. Fink is now the theatre’s celebrated ghost. He never married, and his apartment was just a place where he slept. His real and only home was the Tampa Theatre. As I remember, 90% of his time was spent there, on duty or off. If there is such a thing as a ghost, Fink would surely be there. He loved the place just that much.
There are many stories about the Tampa Theatre, some that I knew of first hand, and, in some cases, was a part of. But they are too lengthy to relate here. Suffice it to say, the place was one of the most beautiful theatres in existence, and still is.
THE SOUTH’S MOST BEAUTIFUL THEATRE AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD.
Bill Schultz, Tampa Theatre Manager 1950-52
The South’s most beautiful theatre, of course, belongs to The Tampa Theatre, in Tampa, Florida. The eyes of a child belong to me. My first recollection of this fantastic movie palace goes back to somewhere in the mid-1930’s with films like Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Gone With The Wind. When Gone With The Wind premiered in Tampa, my mother took me to The Tampa Theatre to see it. I was nine years old at the time. I remember the large crowd and the most thrilling movie of that day, but the thing that still stays fresh in my mind was the beautiful theatre itself.
Many interesting things happened to me at The Tampa Theatre during my childhood. It was like a meeting place for me and my friends. If we weren’t at the old Franklin Theatre (later renamed The Florida) which was straight across the street, watching Buck Jones or Tom Mix in some cliff hanger, we were at The Tampa, looking at the likes of Spencer Tracy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or some other horror movie that has always appealed to kids.
The first date I ever had was at The Tampa Theatre. I was ten, and she was eleven. (I was always fond of older women.) I even remember the movie. It was called “My Favorite Wife,” and it starred Cary Grant and Irene Dunn. After the movie, we bumped into some of my friends and I went off to play and let her go home by herself. I was somewhat inexperienced at the time. If I had known she was going to turn out to be a Hollywood starlet, I don’t think I would have made such a bad decision. And a Hollywood starlet she became. Her name was Mary Hatcher, a little girl with a golden voice. Seven years later, she made a personal appearance at The Tampa Theatre, and the theatre manager, O.G. Finley, had his picture taken with her, framed that picture and hung it on his office wall. It was still there when I became the theatre’s assistant manager in 1950, but I never told O.G. I had known her so long ago.
Mary made several movies early in her career. She had a bit part in “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay”, starring Gail Russell and Diana Lynn, and some others which I can’t recall at the moment. Her career started to take off in the late 40’s, with a starring role in a Desi Arnaz movie. But her career was brief. Mary Hatcher was born a beautiful lady, and the life of Tinsel Town was not for her. She gave it up in the early 50’s to become a wife and mother and, as far as I know, she still lives in Los Angeles. She would be in her seventies now, and I’m sure she has grown old with grace and dignity, and I’d be willing to bet she still has her beauty.
So much for the eyes of a child. When I was twenty, I became the assistant manager of The Tampa Theatre. One day soon, I’ll tell you of some of my adventures in that gorgeous palace.
Bill Schultz, Tampa Theatre Manager 1950-52
Reflections! What are they? They are past thoughts of one’s personal history. They are things and events that have been set aside in the recesses of one’s mind, and every now and then, find their way to the fore. I reflect on many things in my past, but the ones I concentrate on are the things I have enjoyed. I suppose that is why I think of my time with theatres so much.
I got the theatre in my blood, as the saying goes, when I was sixteen and became the head usher at The Colony Theatre in Portsmouth, Virginia. I worked there 6 days a week, 12 to 14 hours each day. My salary (before taxes) was $18.00 per week. Not much money, but I netted $16.32 and that was more money in the pocket of a sixteen year old than I had ever seen
The year was 1946, and I was visiting my father in Portsmouth during summer vacation from Central High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I was a sophomore. I think I suddenly knew what I wanted to do with my life after I graduated. I would make the entertainment world my career…..and I came close to doing just that.
One year out of high school, I went into training for an assistant manager at The Carolina Theatre in Charlotte, N.C. for the Wilby-Kincey Theatre chain, and graduated a full fledged assistant, assigned to The Broadway Theatre in that same city. The Broadway was a 3 policy house, first runs, hold overs and stage shows. I met many interesting people, and got to know a few of them pretty well during their short time there. There was “Gabby” Hayes, Lash LaRue, Johnny Mongal and Tiny Hutton, too.
I also worked personal appearances at the Carolina Theatre, even after I became the assistant at The Broadway. These were road shows and a little higher in class than some of the stuff we played at my theatre. We ran Joe E. Brown in “Harvey”, for one, the story of the ten foot rabbit. Joe was a great guy, with the same laughable personality off stage as he displayed in his movies. One performance didn’t fill up the theatre, and, afterwards, he came out on the stage, pulled up a chair, surveyed the people and said; “Small, but mighty.” That got a laugh from the audience.
In January of 1950, I came back to Tampa, Florida, my town, and straight to The Tampa Theatre, where I took over as the junior executive with O.G. Finley, who was the manager. The theatre had a beautiful Wurlitzer organ, but, at that time, no organist to play it, at least not on a steady basis. This was after the Eddie Ford era. Eddie Ford had established himself as the man to listen to during breaks between shows, but he was gone now. Where, in times past, the organ would rest at the bottom of a shallow shaft, and Eddie would begin playing as it rose to floor level, it now remained stationary at the top.
In 1950, the theatre brought in a gentleman by the name of Stanley Malotte to play the intermissions on a two week engagement. Since the organ was now stationary at floor level, Stan was told never to attempt to mount the organ platform from below, which was the way Eddie Ford used to do. There was a door in the basement that led to the shaft, but, of course, there was nothing there to step onto then.
One night, while talking to the engineer down below, Stan suddenly realized he was about to miss his cue, and, in his haste, the warning we had given him evaporated from his mind. In the lobby, the thick wooden doors that separated that space from the theatre interior were closed, and no one heard the clatter. My first knowledge of what had happened was when an usher came running out, shouting that someone had just fallen out of the balcony. I was standing by the candy counter, eating a box of popcorn, and, needless to say, that box went straight up in the air. Once inside, I saw the crowd down by the organ and knew no one could have fallen out of the balcony, not and landed all the way down at the front of the stage. When I got down there, I found out what had happened. Stan had taken the short cut, gone through the basement door and stepped out into thin air. It was only a short drop to the bottom of the shaft, but it was enough to crack a couple of ribs and give him a few cuts and bruises. But, showman that he was, he mounted the organ, played the intermission and, and afterwards, we hustled him off to the hospital, where they patched him up and sent him on his way.
There were many events that took place in The South’s Most Beautiful Theatre, and we’ll talk again. In the meantime………so much for reflections.
FUN, GAMES AND TRAGEDIES AT THE SOUTH’S MOST BEAUTIFUL THEATRE
Bill Schultz, Tampa Theatre Manager 1950-52
I became the assistant manager of the Tampa Theatre in January of 1950, and many interesting and fun things took place there during my three year tenure. In addition to O.G. Finley, the manager, I worked with such people as Blondelle Gladney, who had been a cashier there since the theatre opened in 1926. Evelyn Robertson and Katherine Burgher were the other two cashiers. Hugh Austin, Foster Finley, Bill Sullivan and a man we all called Scotty, whose first name I can’t remember, were our projectionists. The ushers were headed up by Manuel Marrero, who was actually older than me by five years. Our doormen were Robert Carran and Charles Bretz, both middle aged gentlemen.
Back stage was Mike Michaels, the engineer, and stage director Syd Morris. Our janitorial crew was (daytime) George Richardson and his wife, Hilda, and (night crew) Earl Elliott and his wife, Carrie.
Our concession counter was on the opposite side of the lobby from where it now stands, and behind it stood Judy Goss, Jean Massey and a sweet and charming young lady by the impossible name of Eumadilda Esmarelda LaVita Barnhill, known affectionately to all of us as “Eula Mae”………and this is where the fun began.
One particular night (the night the girls stayed late to take inventory) I was in one of my devilish moods, and quietly crept down the stairs to the landing just over their heads with a huge rubber spider on a string. Slowly I let it down over Eula Mae’s head, and dangled it in front of her. She had been in the act of locking the candy case, and was holding a large tin cup filled with locks and keys, not to mention nickels, dimes and quarters. The piercing scream she gave out could have been heard all the way to the north end of Franklin Street. Locks went one way, keys another. Nickles, dimes and quarters wound up all over the lobby. The reaction I got from her was the last thing I expected, and, seeing the wild hysteria she flew into, I ran down the stairs, anxious to correct this dastardly deed I had done, and made an effort to grab hold of her. In her panic, she threw a crazy right hook and I wound up seeing stars. I don’t think we ever found much of the money, but we did recover most of the locks and keys. I had to do some fast talking to keep her from walking off the job.
Of course, there were other things I was responsible for, like the time I pulled a joke on Blondelle as she sat in the box office. Bud Mueller had take over for Mike Michaels in the engine room after Mike had moved to the Tampa Theatre Building next door and he stationed himself by the box office while I slipped off to find a telephone. I called Blondelle, pretending to be a quiz show host from Radio Station WDAE, and gave her the chance to win a great prize if she could tell me the name of Roy Rogers’ horse. She got so excited she said Lassie and almost ruined the joke. But then she recovered and said Trigger. I congratulated her and told her she had just won a galvanized bucket of horse fertilizer. When I got back to the box office, Blondelle had fire in her eyes, and Bud was rolling in laughter. I never had the nerve to tell her I was the one who made the call.
But all of this was done in spare time. Much of my time was spent doing payrolls, inventories and box office reports. I did have to earn my salary.
Unfortunately, not all was fun and games. There was some sadness as well. An old doorman I can only refer to as Mr. Lanier, since I don’t remember his first name, lost his balance one day in the lobby, and hit his head on the terrazzo floor. It killed him immediately. Mr. Bretz, our night doorman, lost his wife of many years, and he was never the same afterwards.
But probably the greatest tragedy was the death of Foster “Fink” Finley, our projectionist, and brother to O.G. Finley, the manager, when he suffered a heart attack in the projection booth and died there. Most people know the story of Fink’s ghost that is said to haunt the theatre to this day. I personally believe this to be true, and maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll prove it.
So much for fun and games, and tragedy at THE SOUTH’S MOST BEAUTIFUL THEATRE. We’ll talk again.
Andrea Graham, Tampa
I have a story to share with you. When I first moved to Tampa from Manhattan I had a difficult time making the transition. While I lived in New York I had Broadway, exotic restaurants, cosmopolitan people and first run art movies at my fingertips. Tampa fell short in all of these categories. I was unhappy and thinking of moving back to New York . Then one Saturday morning I strolled down Franklin Street in downtown Tampa and wandered into the Tampa Theater. I spent more than an hour there marveling at the twinkling stars in the dark blue sky ceiling, mesmerized by the large puppets on stage entertaining a full house of kids. I was overcome with the authenticity and beauty of this jewel. This became a turning point for me. I decided that any community that supported such an incredible space was a perfect place for me to make my home.
Twenty-five years later, Tampa Theater continues to dazzle me. I know that if I go to see a film there I will not be disappointed. It is sure to be a high quality, artistically-superior and mentally-challenging experience.
I am so proud that our community has the foresight to support such a pivotal force in our cultural panorama. This theater is Florida â€™s only remaining historic movie palace that still features film as its core. My goal is to make sure that film theaters like the Tampa Theater are still around for many years to come so that my children will be able to experience them as well. I want them to have the same experience that I did and discover the magic of historical theaters that have stars that twinkle and films that feed your soul.
Dori, David, and baby Emma Jones, Tampa
From childhood, Tampa Theatre has been a magical place to me. I recall the many field trips we went on- to see plays, ballets, and movies. During High School, my friends and I spent every weekend at Tampa Theatre seeing whatever was playing. But I never realized how much Tampa Theatre would change my life.
In early 1990, a mutual friend called me to set up what I thought would be a double date. He planned to pick up my girlfriend and I and a friend of his, we would go to The Old Meeting House to eat, and then we’d go to Tampa Theatre to see the Animation Celebration that was playing.
We didn’t know he had invited another person, whom we had never met, to join us, and that he had done it without telling that person that we would be there. When his friend walked in we were all a little surprised, but he seemed nice, and we welcomed him to the group. After the show ended we all hung around outside the theatre and talked.
Later, I received a call from my friend asking what I thought of the newcomer and was asked if I would be interested to talk to him. I said I thought he seemed nice, and sure, I guess I would be interested to talk to him. My friend asked me to hold on and went off the line. At that time, I didn’t know it, but he was calling him and asking him the same questions. He must have responded appropriately, because then my friend, who had 3 way calling, connected us, told us to talk to one another, and then promptly hung up.
We spent time on the phone, started dating, and have been together ever since. We married in 1994, and now have a beautiful daughter. I will always remember the magical Tampa Theatre, and its role in the history of our family.
Robert J. McCall, Tampa
I was an usher there in 1950 while attending Hillsborough High School. I have many fond memories of my time there. About 1 year. The pay then was 35 cents per hour. I believe the manager’s name was Mr. Findley. The head usher was Manuel. He was an old man to us at the time. I believe he was about 35. My best friend, Johnny Bohannon, also worked there. We all wore uniforms then with cardboard collars and shirtfront with bow ties. I was working there when the Korean War started. I remember someone coming in all excited about us being at was with Russia. At that time most of us had never heard of Korea or where it was.
A Proposal Story from Rob and Kimberly Frey
Almost two years ago I was browsing the internet for Sound of Music DVD’s and/or CD’s. I came across a wonderful site that detailed a “Sing-a-long” version of the movie that was released in certain theaters. There was a closer theater showing the film but not on a date that we could make it. At this same time I was trying to imagine a way to ask my wife (then girlfriend) to marry me. Not being one to simply pick a nice restaurant or the such, I imagined a bold idea. (Well, with a little encouragement from my mother). We drove to Tampa and had dinner. Then, over to the theater. It was wonderful! The beauty of such a place confirmed that I hade made the right choice. Those of you who have never been to this event think Rocky horror meets Sounds of Music.
I had made arrangements with theater personnel earlier and when the costume contest started I managed to make myself scarce stating I had to use the restroom. Imagine my wife’s surprise as she saw me on stage. She was very embarrassed at first, thinking I had taken a wrong turn from the facilities and onto the stage. Well, that was nowhere near what she felt when I announced to the theater I came dressed as a proposal and asked her to marry me. Thank god she said yes! We have returned every year since to watch the “sing-a-long” SOM.
Vernon Hanlon, Tampa
I brought my first date here when we were about 12 years old. My mom brought us and dropped us off as that was “cool.” We saw the original “101 Dalmatians.” As kids we used to get in here in the summertime for 25 cents and 6 RC bottle caps. Come to find out my wife did the same thing so we probably were here at the same time. This was naturally before I knew her. We could have probably sat next to each other.
Frances Fontaine, Riverview
My father helped to build the Tampa Theatre. He used to come home and tell us how beautiful it was inside. He said the stars were twinkling in the sky as you would watch the movie. Later when I was a teenager it was a thrill to get dressed up and ride in the rumble seat with my boyfriend all the way from Ruskin to see a movie and have a sundae after the movie. Much later I took my eight-year-old daughter to see “Gone With the Wind” — she couldn’t watch the movie for watching the stars.
George L. Sanders, Sun City Center
I sold newspapers on Franklin Street in the late 1920s and remember the Lindbergh Crossing issue. At 1:30, after the afternoon papers were sold, we would see movies at Tampa Theatre, then come back out about in time to sell the evening papers at 4:30.
Linda Higgs, Tampa
I rode the bus downtown to see “Love Me Tender” five times a day on four occasions.
Joni Fairly, Lakeland
Being a native of Tampa, I have a lot of fond memories of the Tampa Theatre. Some of my favorites are: The summers growing up and going to the matinee every Wednesday morning to the RC bottle cap movies. If you had 6 RC bottle caps you could get in free. When you got inside you would run to your favorite seat. I will always remember the huge dill pickles for a nickel along with the Black Cow hard candy that would take you all day just to eat it. Then there was the first Beatles movie, “Hard Day’s Night” which you had to see three times because of all the screaming. Then there was the Ray Charles concert. But most of all was my first kiss in the balcony looking up at the stars.
Rosalie Stribling, Dunedin
I am a native of Tampa, born and raised here, graduated from Hillsborough High School, attended the University of Tampa for two years, married and have four wonderful adult children. During my last year at Hillsborough High School, which was 1947-48 (where I was a cheerleader), I got a phone call from a young man involved with the Tampa Theatre, and just cannot think of his name offhand. He wanted to promote a movie, and asked me if I would dress up and ride through the town with banners on the car to do this. I agreed and had several of my friends go with me.
After doing several of these “capers,” I cannot remember how it happened, but I really wanted to be the cashier at the front window, so I applied and was given the job. This was the time during the days when a line would form around the block just to buy a ticket to get in. Well, being 17, sitting in that booth, gave me this (I’m laughing while typing this) feeling of such importance that I would have worked for nothing.
My schedule was pretty full during my last year in high school and I was very involved in my church (Seminole Heights Baptist). I would go to Sunday school, and then into the Church for service, sit until about 11:30, leave quietly, and my mother would be waiting in the car with my lunch prepared. I would eat on the way to the theater, to work. I also worked for the old Park Theatre and the Florida Theatre and also worked the concessions stand for all of the theatres at different times when needed.
I think I was the youngest cashier that they had ever hired. I also have my Employers Identification Card, from Gulf Theatre, Inc., Tampa, Fla. with my photo attached, and signed by Mr. Finley, the Manager at the time I was there. I don’t know why I kept this all these years, but it represents something that was of great value to me. I really loved this job.
Mary Fountain McCormick, Tampa
My mother Addesia Fountain (deceased) was employed by Maas Brothers when the Tampa Theatre opened. She was one of the employees who sewed the breathtakingly beautiful stage curtain that was drawn when Eddie Ford began to play the organ. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” I recently took my great nieces to view the theatre. Thanks for the memories.
Conrad Kibler, Tampa
I was balcony captain at the theater in 1948. That was the year the transformer in the underground behind the screen exploded. I was in charge of getting the people out of the theatre. Almost caused my own death.
There was a Charleston contest held on stage around the opening of the theatre. I was eleven. It was the most wonderful night of my life because I won. The prize was $3 which back then bought a whole week’s groceries. I am proud to have been a part of the opening ceremonies.
Doris Keating Stafford, Lutz
I moved with my family to Tampa from San Antonio, TX in September 1936, at the age of seventeen. My father purchased and operated a “Mom-and-Pop” type grocery store on Tampa Street, between Palm and Ross Avenues, where the new YMCA is now located. Directly across the street from the grocery store was a boarding house, operated by a lady, Mrs. Howard, and her divorced daughter, Nellie. All of the boarders were male.
In the summer of 1937, one of Mrs. Howard’s boarders invited me to attend the Tampa Theatre with him. We walked to town to the theater, and saw “It Happened One Night” with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. It was “Bank Night,” and during the drawing, I won one of the cash prizes – $10.00 – a tremendous amount of money for me at the time. Instead of doing the courteous thing, and inviting my date to share refreshments “on me” after the show, I was too exhilarated with my new riches to be that thoughtful and considerate. In the end, I selfishly spent the entire $10.00 on myself. I bought a new dress, handbag, shoes, some cosmetics and got a permanent! I don’t recall much about the movie, and have not seen it since, although I would like to do so. However, I do remember the night and my luck at the beautiful, unique Tampa Theatre.
(Incidentally, my date did ask me to accompany him again the following week, so I must assume he was not too unhappy with my selfishness.)
Doris Whittaker, St. Petersburg
I was born and raised in Tampa, July 29, 1929. I don’t remember the first time I was taken to a movie at the Tampa Theatre but I sure remember going with my brother and then by myself.
On Dec. 7, 1941 I was at the theater when during intermission a military person got up on stage and asked for all military personnel to report back to their posts. Then he stated not to be alarmed as it was just necessary they get back to camp. Well, we know what happened. I have always remembered the “goose bumps” and cold feeling I had then.
It was always a special treat for me to be allowed to go to the movies there as the Tampa Theatre was my “special treat.” I went to the movies in Ybor City to all 3, the Broadway, Casino and Ritz. It’s funny how something will stay in your heart and mind for years. I have always loved that theater. I used to count the stars. I had a favorite one — the brightest on the right side near front.
Nona Brown, Fort Myers
I grew up in Plant City, and always was thrilled to go to the theater. It was like a palace to me, and I went often from the time it was first built. I had a friend who lived in Tampa, and when I visited her, we would ride the streetcar to town, and go to the movie. I was about 10 or 12 at the time.
Alex B. Hull, Thonotosassa
I had not been into the Tampa Theatre since the beginning of WWII. What a flood of memories that crowded my mind when I ambled through the auditorium, the balcony, the staircase and the lobby this past Sunday. My wife, daughter and I went to see “The Secret of Roan Inish.”
I can still see the ushers in their uniforms who greeted me at the entrance to the auditorium, preceded everyone down the aisle and located the seats that were vacant. It never occurred to me that if I did not like the seat indicated that I could sit elsewhere. The usher was king of the aisles, the cop on the beat and monitor of our morals while in the balcony.
I can still hear John Nesbit’s “Passing Parade,” Lowell Thomas in the news, the cartoons and, of course, Eddie Ford, the organist at all the evening shows and some of the matinees. He had a 15-minute recital on all the popular tunes of the time and also the music that pleased “the older folks.” Eddie Ford was on the radio every day about noon time and broadcasted from WDAE, if memory serves me correctly. One song, in particular, comes to mind, “Cloe.” We would sing at the top of our voices because the words were flashed on the screen.
My memory (such as it is) recalls the sign or announcement that it was 70 degrees inside the theater since, I believe, that Tampa Theatre had one of the first, if not the first, air conditioning system in town. We could not believe it!
I suspect my most vivid memory of the theater occurred on the 7th of December 1941. I do not recall the film but when we left the theater after the show we were met on the sidewalk with the news that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. The news did not seem to me, at the time, all that exciting, but I was just 19 and the war was far away. When I reflect upon the incident my thought was “how dumb could a country get that would dare attack the USA.” Then we all went down to the Colonnade for a hamburger and a “dope.” If one had a date we would then have spent a whole dollar — 35 cents for the film, 10 cents for the hamburger and 5 cents each for the Coca-Cola (called a “dope”). If we had any change left we would leave a 10-cent tip for the “carhop.”
Bobby M. Bennett, Temple Terrace
My grandfather worked in a bank in Sulphur Springs in the 1920s and lost his job and most of everything in the crash of 1929. His name was Bob Meadows. Work of any kind was precious.
My grandmother was a beautiful lady and great Ragtime pianist. Her name was Gaynell Meadows and made extra money playing the piano for silent movies at the Tampa Theatre and other movie houses in the area. She told me many times about this over the years until she passed away in 1966.
I hope this will be of some interest to your history because, even today, that movie house is a step back in time for me. I spent many happy Saturdays there as a child and teenager.
Frank & Lydia Thomas, Brandon
The Tampa Theatre is very special to me and my husband. Forty four years ago we had our first date. He invited me to a midnight movie on New Year’s Eve at the Tampa Theatre. We sat in the balcony. We were very dressed up. I think the movie started at 11:00. At 12:00 the movie was interrupted for a few minutes of noise, song and celebration. At midnight he kissed me. That was very unusual to have a kiss on the first date in those days. We were so happy that night. I was 16 and he was 17. We started going steady that night, got married a week after high school graduation and have been happily married for 41 years. We have 4 grown children and 7 grandchildren.
We remember the beauty of the theater. The stars, the stairs, the balcony, the décor, the ushers, the atmosphere and everything that made it a very special place and made us feel very special. As children, natives of Tampa, we both remember taking the streetcar to Saturday morning movies for 25 cents. What happy days. Thanks for the memories.
P.S. We remember an organ would rise up out of the floor. Sometimes there was an entertainer or singer on stage. The restrooms were so beautiful you felt luxurious as if you were in a castle. The stars and blackness of the sky make you really feel like you were outside. The draperies, lights, statues, sculptures make you think you were in an opera house.
There were other theaters that were cheaper like the Victory, Florida, Broadway, Ritz, Palace, Park, Rex, Seminole; but the Tampa Theatre was known and reserved as a place for special dates and occasions. It had so much respect. The organist’s name was Ford.
The Tampa Theatre was in the center of main downtown. O’Falks and Wolf Department Stores were across the street (dept. stores for rich people). Behind the theatre was the YMCA, Woolworth’s. Newberry’s was down the street on the same side. The décor on stage had red curtains or drapes trimmed in gold. The curtains were pulled at movie time. The main feature was always proceeded by cartoons, news of the war, Churchill. There were tiny lamps and Greek god and goddess statues on the side. Shirley Temple, Humphrey Bogart, The Lone Ranger. It’s fun to remember the richness of details from long ago.
Sol Fleischman, Jr.
“It was the place to go when I was a kid. It was the first air-conditioned theater we had. I remember walking in front of the building and feeling that cold blast of air coming down the concourse and around the ticket booth. You couldn’t find anything like that anywhere else.”
Tara Schroeder, Tampa Theatre staff member
An elderly gentleman paused in front of the box office one morning looking rather wistfully at the front door. I said hello and asked if he’d been inside. “Many times,” he said. “Back in my day, many nice girls under 19 weren’t allowed to go out on dates. So we would we go to the Tampa as a group and split up into dates in the balcony.” He strolled away with a twinkle in his eye.
Nick DiMaggio, Jr., Tampa, FL
Believe it or not, the Tampa held the world premiere of Disney’s “101″ Dalmatians” on January 25, 1961. Yes the World Premiere was at the Tampa Theatre! I was 10 years of age at the time and did not attend the actual premiere due to the fact that it was held on a Wednesday evening with the following day being a school day. However, I did attend on Saturday afternoon and had to wait in a line that was nearly 4 blocks long! Of course the wait was worth it! Over the years I’ve seen many films a the “South’s Most Beautiful Theatre” and always enjoyed attending. The Tampa was home to nearly all the Sean Connery/James Bond films of the 60′s, the Edgar Allen Poe/Vincent Price thrillers, the Beach Party films and the more popular attractions over the years.
During the time I attended, the program would consist of the news of the day, a color cartoon, previews and an occasional featurette. In addition the Tampa always ran ads and promos for 2 local tourist attractions: Silver Springs and Weeki Watchee.
I vividly recall when the Beatles films played. The Tampa had the first-run showings of “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” and all seats were priced at $1.00. The audience went wild (at least the girls did) whenever the Beatles’ image would appear on-screen, which was through most of the films’ running time! I first saw “Psycho” at the Tampa in 1964 and the screams were nearly as loud!
The Tampa had a huge Cinema Scope screen, which was installed in the mid-fifties and remained until the theatre ceased operation as a commercial house in the mid-seventies.
Although I am not a Floridian, I too have fond memories of the Tampa Theatre – from just last year! My best friend had moved to Tampa, and I flew down from Virginia to attend the Oscar Night festivities (as well as celebrate/commiserate her birthday). We had bought new evening attire, had our hair and makeup done, and rode the limousine like movie stars, more than once. The hors d’oeuvres were fantastic, but were totally overshadowed by the theatre. I am still in awe of the fabulously tiled lobby and Mediterranean themed stage. We trekked to the balcony to further inspect the nighttime ceiling. Sitting in the audience, watching the Academy Award show like we were in Los Angeles, talking with everyone around us, made for an utterly memorable night.
I came back to Virginia and raved so much about how much fun it was that now there are five of us attending this year!
Maggye, Chantilly, Va.
As a child in the late 50′s, I remember going to the Tampa Theatre, the admission was bottle caps from the RC cola drinks to see children movies. My sister and I drank RC cola all week so that we could have enough bottle caps to get in to the movies. They not only had wonderful movies but they also had drawings for prizes and I was the lucky winner of a beautiful golden cocker spaniel puppy.
Janet Knorr, St. Petersburg
I remember being at the Tampa Theatre with my aunt, Meta Rust, and her granddaughter, Kim to see the Sound of Music every summer. My aunt worked at the Academy of Holy Names and it was a treat for Kim and I to get together to have fun during the summers of late 60′s and early 70′s, even though we all live in the same city. Our special time was to get dressed up and go to the Tampa Theatre to see the Sound of Music and then come back to my aunts house and sing all the songs. We always felt like princesses being guided to our seats and watching the curtains open for the movie. Special times.
Tracey Porath, Tampa
When I was growing up my family was not very interested in the cultural events of the city. However, I had a wonderful English teacher in high school who thought all students should have the privilege of cultural experiences. She arranged for a field trip to the Tampa Theatre where we saw Vincent Price give a memorable monologue on stage. I had seen him in many classic movies but he had an even more commanding presence live and in person. It was an experience that I will always remember and I count it as one of my most treasured memories. I believe I still have the ticket stub!
John Bohannon, New York City
The Tampa Theatre is one of the most magnificent theatres in America. I was an usher there in the early 1950s, and it was a memorable time. I recently read a post from my old buddy Bob McCall who ushered there with me. What a pleasant surprise to see his name. Bill Schultz was the Assistant Manager, and Obediah Gaines Finley was the Manager. His brother (can’t recall his first name) was a projectionist and reportedly his ghost roams the theatre today. My other usher buddies there: Roger Butler, Lyn Officer and Upton Officer.
I recall one intermission when the grand Wurlitzer organ began to rise from the pit and the organist (can’t remember his name) slipped and fell into the pit with a clatter crash bang that echoed throughout the theatre. He climbed back to the keyboard with a bloody head and proclaimed, “The show must go on.” And it did. When my career as an usher ended I got my start in radio at WDAE with my good friend Pat Chamburs, heard today on WMNF Wednesday 7pm-9pm.
Let’s hope the Tampa Theatre will always be there to remind everyone of how grand theatres once were.
Dorothy Davis, Tampa, June 2007
I was forn and raised in Tampa. I am 67 going on 68 in November. My mother used to dress me up when I was barely able to walk and ride the bus all the way from Waters Ave. and Florida Ave. after walking a mile to get the bus stop.
Our day consisted of going to town, having lunch an Maas Brothers and then going to the Tampa Theatre for a movie. I was always in such a state of wonder when we entered the theatre.
Tom Morris, Tampa, August 2007
My mother, Kathryn Morris, then Sandusky, was raised in Arcada, Florida. Her family moved there from Kentucky in 1925. Her father, Dr. C.P. Sandusky was a dentist who periodically came to dental meetings in Tampa.
Mom and her siblings loved to accompany “Pop” to Tampa and shop at Maas Brothers, then go to the Tampa Theatre. It was the first and only, at the time, air conditioned building in Tampa. She still enjoys the classic movie series each summer and winter. Thank you for preserving this magical placed and its many wonderful memories.