History and museums
The Tampa Theatre and Office Building is a historic U.S. theater and city landmark in the Uptown District of downtown Tampa, Florida. On January 3, 1978, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The Theatre features a wide range of independent, foreign, and documentary films on a daily basis. It is Tampa's only non-profit movie palace, and operating costs are supported by its members, donors and corporate sponsors, as well as by ticket and concessions sales. It has often been used as a backdrop for movies, music videos and local programming.
Designed as an atmospheric theatre style movie palace by architect John Eberson, the Tampa Theatre opened on October 15, 1926. The theatre was the first commercial building in Tampa to offer air conditioning, which gave the theater appeal during Florida's sweltering summer months. Inside the Tampa, audiences are transported to a lavish, romantic Mediterranean courtyard replete with old world statuary, flowers, and gargoyles. Over it all is a nighttime sky with twinkling stars and floating clouds.
Like other new movie palaces around the country, the Tampa Theatre was enormously popular. For the first time in history, the common person had access to opulence on a scale never before imagined. For 10 cents, they 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.
For several decades, the Tampa remained a jewel and the centerpiece of Tampa‘s cultural landscape. People grew up, stole their first kisses in the balcony, followed the weekly newsreels, and celebrated life week after week by coming back to the Tampa.
But by the 1960s and 70s, times had changed. America's flight to suburbs was having a damaging effect on downtown business districts across the country. Hardest hit were the downtown movie palaces which dotted America’s urban landscapes. Audiences dwindled and costs rose. Many of our nation’s finest movie palaces were quickly demolished before anyone noticed because the land beneath them became more valuable than the theatre operation.
In 1973, the Tampa Theatre faced the same fate. But in Tampa citizens rallied. Committees were formed. City leaders became involved, and soon a deal was reached to have the City rescue the Tampa by assuming its leases. The Arts Council of Hillsborough County agreed to program and manage the Tampa with films, concerts and special events. By the time the Theatre reopened in early 1978, the Tampa had become something of a national model on how to save an endangered theater.
Today, Tampa Theatre is managed by the not-for-profit Tampa Theatre Foundation and is a remarkable success story. The Theatre presents and hosts over 600 events a year including a full schedule of first run and classic films, concerts, special events, corporate events, tours and educational programs. The Theatre is one of the most heavily utilized venues of its kind in the United States.
Since its rescue in 1978, the Tampa Theatre has welcomed over 5 million guests including over 1 million school children for school field trips and summer camps in the context of one of Tampa ‘s largest historic preservation projects.
Community support and contributions are critical to the Theatre’s continued success and viability. In spite of its successes, the Theatre only earns about 60% of its annual operating budget through earned income. Contributions to the Tampa Theatre Foundation from individuals, companies and foundations help to make up difference and keep the Theatre accessible and affordable for everyone.
Tampa Theatre was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, is a Tampa City Landmark, and is a member of the League of Historic American Theatres.
The Tampa Theatre has undergone many restoration projects to maintain its original splendor as well as equipment upgrades to provide a modern movie-going experience. The most recent restoration project was the replacement of the marquee which includes the vertical blade sign and the canopy. The completion of this major facelift was marked by the Marquee Lighting Ceremony which took place on January 16, 2004.
Tampa Theatre operates The Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ and the instrument is played before nightly films. The organ is played and maintained by a team of volunteer organists from the Central Florida Theatre Organ Society.
In the spring of 2013, during its 86th year of existence, the Theatre converted to digital picture and sound (with the exception of productions that are only available in the movie reel format) and screened a free showing of Samsara to celebrate the transition. The switch to digital—in anticipation of an industry change whereby all new releases will only be available in digital format—occurred at a cost of US$150,000.
The glam metal band Sleeze Beez filmed the music video for the song "Stranger Than Paradise" at the theater, while other artists such as Ani DiFranco, David Byrne, Arlo Guthrie, and Old Crow Medicine Show have performed live shows at the venue.