Designed as an atmospheric theatre style movie palace by architect John Eberson, it opened on October 15, 1926. It was the first commercial building in Tampa to offer air conditioning, which is appealing in a city with such sweltering summers. Inside the Tampa, audiences are transported to a lavish, romantic Mediterranean courtyard replete with old-world statuary, flowers, and gargoyles.
Like other new movie palaces around the country. For ten-cents, theatre-goers could escape into a fantasy land for two hours, see first-class entertainment, and be treated like royalty by uniformed platoons of ushers and attendants. By the end of the 1920s, more than 90 million Americans were going to the movies every week.
By the 1960s and 70s, America's flight to suburbs was having a damaging effect on downtown business districts across the country. Theatres were hit particularly hard in this time, and many of the nation's movie palaces were quickly demolished.
In 1973, the future Tampa Theatre looked grim. The land underneath the building was worth more than the theatre operation, but the citizens rallied and committees were formed. City leaders became involved, and soon a deal was reached to have the City rescue the Tampa Theatre by assuming its leases. The Arts Council of Hillsborough County agreed to program and manage the Tampa Theatre with films, concerts, and special events. By the time the Theatre reopened in early 1978, the Tampa Theatre had become something of a national model on how to save an endangered theater. The building caught fire in 1991, and the Tampa Theatre Foundation led restorations beginning in 1992. Today, it hosts over 600 events each year including films, concerts, tours, and educational programs. It remains one of the most heavily utilized venues of this bygone era in the United States.
Cover image "Tampa Theatre" by Kris Hankinson on Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0.