Designed by famed theater architect John Eberson and built by Paramount Pictures, Tampa Theatre opened on Oct. 15, 1926 as one of America’s most elaborate movie palaces.

Like other lavish downtown movie theaters around the country, Tampa Theatre was enormously popular when it opened. For 25 cents the common person could escape into an opulent fantasyland cooled by “man-made air,” enjoy first-class entertainment, and be treated like royalty by platoons of uniformed ushers. For decades, Tampa Theatre remained a jewel at the center of the city’s cultural landscape as generations of patrons stole their first kisses in the balcony, followed the world through the newsreels and grew up coming to the Theatre week after week.

But by the 1950s, times had changed. The post-war flight to the suburbs was having a damaging effect on downtown businesses, and the movie palaces that lit up America’s main streets were further impacted by the advent of television. Audiences dwindled and costs rose. Many of our nation’s finest movie palaces were demolished as the land beneath them became more valuable than the theater operations.

In 1973, Tampa Theatre was likewise slated for demolition. But the citizens rallied, committees were formed, community leaders got involved, and the City Council struck a deal to purchase and preserve the building. By the time Tampa Theatre reopened to the public in January 1977, it had become something of a national model for how to save an endangered theater. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and as a Tampa City Landmark when the designation was created in 1988.

Today, the movie palace is managed by the nonprofit Tampa Theatre Foundation and has become a remarkable success story. As one of the most heavily utilized venues of its kind in the country, Tampa Theatre’s single auditorium hosts more than 600 events each year, including a full schedule of first-run and classic films, live concerts, special events, tours and educational programs. Since its rescue, the Theatre has welcomed more than 5 million visitors to downtown Tampa — including 1 million school children for field trips and summer camps — all within the context of one of Tampa’s largest historic preservation projects.