1. Who built the Tampa Theatre?
Visionaries and dreamers. More than 3,000 movie theaters were built across America in the 1920s, and about 300 of these were grand enough to be considered a “major movie palace.” Tampa Theatre was designed by John Eberson, and Paramount Studios heavily financed the Theatre’s construction in 1926 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 built next to their department store for the same reasons that shopping malls today want multiplexes in or nearby them: theaters are people magnets that draw potential customers to their doorstep.
2. Why is Tampa Theatre so elaborate?
In the 1920s, studios often owned or had major interests in theaters. 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 like Tampa Theatre in which to showcase their product.
It is no coincidence then, that some famous movie palace names of the 1920s were also studio names: “The Paramount,” “The Fox” and “United Artists.” Marcus Loew, one of the movie palace moguls and a founder of MGM, summed it up by saying, “We sell tickets to theaters, not movies.”
The Great Depression of the 1930s effectively halted new theatre construction, and anti-trust legislation in the 1940’s prevented studios from investing in theatres. With that, the age of the movie palace officially came to an end.
3. Who designed Tampa Theatre?
Famed theater architect John Eberson was commissioned to design the Tampa Theatre. Eberson was considered the top movie palace architect in America and an innovative pioneer who created “atmospheric” theaters with the illusion that you are outdoors under a night sky. 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.
Eberson designed scores of other theatres around the world that wowed patrons with their imaginative approach and delighted theater owners with lower construction costs than more traditional designs. His atmospheric style was so popular that other architects quickly adopted it for projects such as Atlanta’s Fox Theatre.
4. Who owns Tampa Theatre now? Who operates it?
Simply put, the community owns Tampa Theatre. It is operated and programmed for the public benefit by the non-profit Tampa Theatre, Inc. under terms of a 50-year operating agreement with the City of Tampa. Tampa Theatre, Inc. is governed by a 27- member volunteer board of directors who provide guidance, oversight and financial support to ensure the Theatre remains affordable and accessible to all.
5. Besides films, what other events does Tampa Theatre host?
Many famous performers, celebrities and politicians have appeared on the Theatre’s historic stage over the years. Modern day artists such as Annie Lennox, David Byrne, George Thorogood, Ray Charles, B. B. King, Joan Baez and Harry Connick, Jr., have performed here. Comedians such Louis C.K., Jimmy Fallon, Roseanne Barr, Carrot Top, Sinbad, Sandra Bernhard, Dana Carvey and Lily Tomlin 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 authors like David Sedaris and Khaled Hosseini.
Less celebrated but just as important are the scores of performances for school children that are part of Hillsborough County’s Theatre Field Trip Program. This program brings an average of 30,000 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. Why can’t Tampa Theatre break even? Why does it need contributions to balance the budget?
There is a reason that Tampa Theatre was given up for dead by its former commercial operators in 1973: it was no longer profitable. Over time, the key economic driver for movie theatres changed from the number of seats to the number of screens. With only a single screen, Tampa Theatre could not compete with modern multiplexes. Add to that the substantial cost to maintain a 38,000 square foot, 87-year-old building, and the term “nonprofit” comes into sharper focus.
So while the Theatre’s exceptional programming makes for a very successful box office, earned income still only generates about 65% of our operating budget. The Theatre’s continued success would not be possible without the generosity of the members, donors and corporate sponsors who recognize its value to our community.
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 “most endangered places” list.
7. Can a company rent out The Tampa for a special event?
Absolutely! Tampa Theatre hosts many corporate events each year. Companies such as Sykes Enterprises, Southwest Airlines, Bank of America, Busch Gardens 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.
8. Is Tampa Theatre financially sound?
Yes, with the community’s help. Although the management team keeps Tampa Theatre active with films, concerts and special events, it is only with the help of private contributions that the Theatre is able to fund restoration projects and guarantee excellence in programming.
9. 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 become a SPONSOR of a Tampa Theatre film series or fundraising event, or you could just make a DONATION.
For more information on sponsorship opportunities or making a gift to the Theatre, please contact our Director of Development JL Wagner at (813) 274-8680.
Don’t forget: one of the best ways to support the Tampa is simply to buy a ticket and attend an event!
10. Is the Theatre accessible for patrons with disabilities?
Tampa Theatre has made many accommodations for patrons with disabilities, and more are planned.
Currently, the main floor of the Theatre is barrier free and ADA-compliant restrooms are located at the rear of the auditorium on the east side of the Theatre. Locations for wheelchair seating are provided in the left and right orchestra seating sections. The mezzanine, balcony, and basement lobby are not accessible except by stairs.
For all movies, the Theatre offers assistive listening devices for patrons with hearing disabilities free of charge, available at our concessions stand.
For additional information about the Theatre’s accessibility, please contact the Box Office at (813) 274-8982.
11. Is Tampa Theatre really haunted?
Oh yes. Any old theatre worth its salt has a ghost or two, and we’ll be happy to tell you the story on the next Balcony to Backstage Tour!