The city’s centerpiece

At first glance the Tampa Theatre is not the most impressive sight. It is located in a rather quiet part of Franklin street, but once inside one would be hard pressed to find a singular historical site in Tampa that compares with the Tampa Theatre. Once the outside doors swing open, patrons are transported to a different world, a world of style and witty banter, ruled by higher society.

The walls adjacent to the stage are designed as castle walls, with the ceiling of the theatre illuminated by 99 stars that create a majestic glow during performances and movie showings. The balcony adds to the Theatre’s proper appeal with its precise construction. All these elements make the Tampa Theatre a stop not to be missed by visitors or new Tampa residents.

Since its opening on Oct. 15, 1926, the Tampa Theatre has been an influential part of Tampa, attracting patrons from all walks of life. The overall style is Florida Mediterranean with hints of Italian Renaissance, Spanish and English Tudor, just to name a few. The magnificent building cost a whopping $2.5 million to construct and another $1.5 million to restore in the late ’70s.

The key difference that sets the Tampa Theatre apart from other local buildings is the overwhelming elegance and grandeur that radiates from its old-style marquee and stunning lobby. No other theater or arthouse venue can evoke the same awe that the Tampa Theatre can.

The first film ever shown at the Tampa Theatre was The Ace of Cads, which then cost a meager 25 cents, and, to this day, the Theatre strives to show movies that offer more than the average Hollywood flick carried by the local AMC ever could. The Tampa Theatre is the only place to see arty films such as Bad Education, Born into Brothels and William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. There’s nothing like watching some of the best independent films in such an illustrious movie house with its more than 70-year history and listing as a registered National Historic place as of 1978.

Things were not always so sunny for the Tampa Theatre. In 1973, the Theatre was faced with lower audience attendance and mounting maintenance costs, and all signs pointed to the end for Tampa’s movie palace. But, the city of Tampa stepped in and agreed to pay the various maintenance costs while the arts council of Hillsborough County began plans to manage and set the program of the theater. In 1977 the Tampa Theatre reopened to a public eager to relive the fairytale-style beauty of the 1920s.

Since then the Tampa Theatre has accommodated more than 1.5 million film patrons, played host to 700,000 fans’ favorite artists and 600,000 school children who have visited the theater as part of cultural field trips. The Tampa Theatre is open all year with an average of more than 650 events planned for each year and boasts an annual attendance of more than 140,000.

Besides standing the test of time and numerous style changes that have occurred since it opened, the Tampa Theatre stands proudly as one of Tampa’s brightest spots.

Summer Movie Classics (Sept. 25)

In an effort to fight the insurgence of people flooding multiplexes and hopefully win a few more sophisticated viewers, the Tampa Theatre is returning its Summer Movie Classics series. Forget Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, nevermind the latest TV remakes (Bewitched, the Honeymooners) and the caped crusader’s return (Batman Begins), as the “movie palace” launches modern classics ranging from E.T. to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner to Citizen Kane.

With more people taking time off and a horde of students with nothing to do over the summer, movies rank as one of their top choices. The movie industry traditionally grosses 40 percent of its annual profit during these three months due to studios releasing the most eye-catching films in hopes of big opening numbers. The Tampa Theatre hopes to capitalize on this by offering what no other theater can.

This is one of the few chances viewers will ever get to relive the magic of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or the musical stylings of John Travolta in Grease.

The films that make the final cut are ones that are available and ones that members have suggested to the theatre. The unique idea gives moviegoers a chance to see these films again or for the first time in one of the nation’s most well-regarded movie houses.

An evening at the Tampa Theatre can serve as both a history lesson on 1920’s Tampa and a glimpse of flimmaking’s past.

Contact Pablo Saldana at