TAMPA THEATRE CELEBRATES
90 YEARS OF MEMORIES

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There are two ways to enjoy our timeline.

You can scroll your way through Tampa Theatre's entire 90-year history, or you can use the dots to jump to your favorite decade.

1925

Publix Theatres Corporation, an affiliate of Paramount Studios, begins construction on a new theatre at 711 N. Franklin Street in April.

1926

The headline on the October 15th edition of the Tampa Morning Tribune proclaims

“MAGNIFICENT NEW TAMPA THEATRE OPENS TONIGHT”

Flip Through The Opening Night Program

1929

Tampa Theatre enters the age of the “talkie” when Interference, Paramount's first sound picture, opens on January 13.

What else was showing that week?

1932

Colonel Tom Parker – who would go on to become Elvis Presley’s manager – befriends Tampa Theatre manager O.G. Finley while visiting Tampa. Over the next several years, Parker will create publicity stunts for the Theatre, including driving a stagecoach along Franklin Street and parading a baby elephant wearing a sandwich board down the sidewalk.

1945

A photo taken in 1945 captures the uniformed ushers who would show movie patrons to their seats. CLICK HERE to hear William Prince – the third gentleman from the right – remember his years as a Tampa Theatre usher.

1948

BREAKING UP THE STUDIO SYSTEM

The landmark Supreme Court case United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. decides that the existing distribution system, wherein major film studios own the theaters in which their motion pictures are shown, violates the country’s antitrust laws. The verdict forces the studios — including Tampa Theatre’s parent company, Paramount — to divest themselves of their movie theater chains. For the first time in its history, Tampa Theatre finds itself independently owned.

1950s

MIGHTY WURLITZER SOLD

Our beautiful Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ – the “Unit Orchestra” that scored many of the Theatre’s silent films – is sold to Bayshore Baptist Church. Tampa Theatre will reacquire the organ in 1981, and reinstall it in its original home with the help (and ongoing attention to this day) of the Central Florida Theatre Organ Society.

1965

Foster “Fink” Finley dies

Foster Finley, affectionately known as “Fink,” spent 35 years at Tampa Theatre as head projectionist. His impact on the Theatre lives on, as Fink remains one of the most famous and widely encountered of Tampa Theatre’s ghosts.

1969

GARY RATLIFF HIRED
AS STAGE MANAGER

Gary was part of the Tampa Theatre family through many of its most dramatic changes, working behind the spotlight to prepare the stage for many of Tampa Theatre’s most notable performers. After 44 years of service, Gary retires on Independence Day, 2013.

1971

Blondelle Gladney
retires after 45 years

Blondelle was Tampa Theatre’s original box office cashier, starting in 1926 with the Theatre’s grand opening. For decades, she served in the same box office you see today, taking her role as “Miss Tampa Theatre” and as ambassador to Downtown Tampa very seriously. Her retirement after 45 years makes her the longest-tenured employee in the Theatre’s history.

1976

Tampa Theatre Saved
From Demolition

A coalition of civic and community leaders reached out to the City of Tampa to save Tampa Theatre, which faced demolition as downtown cinema audiences dwindled. City Councilman Lee Duncan and Mayor Bill Poe, Sr. spearheaded the City’s effort to acquire Tampa Theatre (for one dollar) and rescue it for future generations.

1977

STAGING A COMEBACK

Having been rescued from destruction in 1976, Tampa Theatre required significant repair and renovation before it could reopen to the public on January 22. Later that year, a larger stage (the same one you see today) is built over what was originally the orchestra pit.

1978

National Register
of Historic Places

When Tampa Theatre was selected for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, it was only the third theater in the state of Florida so honored.

1985

John Bell becomes
CEO of Tampa Theatre

He still holds the position some 30 years later, as the Theatre celebrates its 90th birthday. CLICK HERE to hear John describe what makes his beloved Theatre so special.

1988

35MM FILM PROJECTOR REINSTALLED

When Tampa Theatre opened in 1926, film was projected in 35mm, as was generally the standard at the time. When the Theatre reopened in 1977, however, it was equipped with only a 16mm projector. In 1988, Tampa resident Mark Sena convinced United Artists Theatres to donate 35mm equipment to Tampa Theatre, allowing us to again show feature films in 35mm. In this same year, Tampa Theatre is declared a Tampa City Landmark.

1991

ZACK STREET YMCA FIRE

On June 19, a major fire at the Zack Street YMCA next door threatens Tampa Theatre once again with destruction. Firefighters douse the Theatre with water in a successful attempt to save it.

1992

TAMPA THEATRE FOUNDATION FORMED

A 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the Tampa Theatre Foundation is tasked with the ongoing preservation and restoration of the Theatre in perpetuity. The Theatre earns about 60% of its annual operation budget through ticket and concessions sales; the remainder is made up of contributions from individuals, companies and charitable organizations.

2000

OSCAR NIGHT AMERICA

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sanctions Tampa Theatre to be one of 36 official “OSCAR Night America” fundraising events on March 26. Sixteen years later, Tampa Theatre continues to host the Tampa Bay area’s longest-running Academy Awards watch party.

2003

BLADE SIGN REINSTALLED

Absent from the building since 1971 due to disrepair and “high maintenance costs,” the iconic TAMPA blade sign is replicated and reinstalled as part of the full restoration of Tampa Theatre’s marquee.

2007

TAMPA THEATRE NAMED
ONE OF “AMERICA’S 21 WONDERS”
BY LIFE MAGAZINE

Read The Article

2009

LOBBY PURCHASED FOR PRESERVATION

On September 30, the City of Tampa takes ownership of the lobby at a cost of $2 million, thus eliminating a preservation threat.

2010

Organist Rosa Rio dies

Rosa Rio had a show business career like they just don’t make anymore: the last living silent film accompanist, friend of Orson Welles, and the undisputed “Queen of the Soaps” for her 22 years creating background organ music for radio soap operas. She died in 2010, three weeks shy of her 108th birthday, having been Tampa Theatre’s silent film accompanist since 1996.

2011

RECORD-BREAKING RUN

The Artist, which would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture that year, began an exclusive seven-week run at Tampa Theatre on Christmas Day. It would go on to break the Theatre’s box office revenue record for first-run films. CLICK HERE to watch The Artist trailer.

2013

TAMPA THEATRE GOES DIGITAL

Tampa Theatre’s new $150,000 digital projection and audio system debuts to audiences with a free community screening of the visually spectacular Samsara.

2015

RECOGNIZED BY SUNDANCE

Tampa Theatre is recognized as one of 23 “Sundance Institute Art House Project Theatres” in September. The program is part of the Sundance Institute’s Art House Convergence, an organization created to increase the quality of art house cinemas in North America and foster ongoing discussion of independent film exhibition.

2016

TAMPA THEATRE
CELEBRATES 90TH BIRTHDAY

On Saturday, October 15, Tampa Theatre will commemorate its 90 years as the city’s majestic movie palace with a community birthday celebration. And the party doesn’t stop there! CLICK HERE to learn more about what we’ve got planned.

TELL US YOUR TAMPA THEATRE STORY

As we prepare to celebrate the Theatre’s 90th birthday this fall, we invite our friends and fans to share with us your Tampa Theatre story. Maybe it’s the first time you ever saw its starry night sky. Or memories of coming to movies with your family as a child. Or a favorite film brought back as a classic so many years later. Just click the buttons below to share your memories of the majestic movie palace, and read others’ submissions.