Florida Matters
10:41 am
Thu September 26, 2013

Step Inside The Tampa Theatre

Tampa's downtown movie palace, The Tampa Theatre, has stood through boom times and depressions. The jewel still stands along Franklin Street. It has been there since 1926 and was the first commercial building in Tampa with air conditioning.  

Back then the movies were a novelty and people would line up, pay 10 cents to get in and then stand in an even longer line to await the departure of another patron.

Then they'd go inside to watch the movie, and stay until they reached the point at which the story began for them and leave. Apparently, this is where the term, "this is where I came in" comes from.

It was built by John Eberson, the renowed European architect who build grand structures across the world.  He's the man responsible for the Gusman in Miami, Florida's only other movie palace. But according to Tampa Theatre CEO John Bell and the history books, the Tampa Theatre was Eberson's personal favorite.

It almost fell to the wrecking ball in the 1970's when residents fled to the suburbs and malls put in multiplexes. But city leaders saved it, somehow knowing that it would be a cornerstone of downtown revitalization.  

It's hard to describe the decor. The term ornate doesn't quite suit the mashup of styles in the atmospheric theater. It's filled with statue-stuffed niches, tapestries, and now-antique furnishings and grotesques guard its lobby with their never-sleeping eyes. 

The show includes an opening act--with music from the Tampa Theatre organ, which is fed by a blower that looks bigger than a Smartcar.

Members of the Central Florida Theatre Organ Society come from as far as Sebring and Brooksville to play that Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ. On the day I visited, the organist was newcomer Jerry Childress, dressed in a loud piano tie and a black cowboy-style musical shirt with black pants and black socks with colorful musical notes.

Early this year, the Motion Picture Association of America named it the number three movie theater in the world, and its one of only two movie theaters in the country to make the short list.