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Tampa Theatre: State Rep Seeks Historical Designation For The City's Oldest Theatre

Nicole Slaughter Graham
WUSF Public Media
John Bell - Tampa Theatre President and CEO, from left, Rep. Jackie Toledo, Anne Pittman - Tampa Theatre Board Chair

For the past 93 years, the Tampa Theatre has been a buzzing hub for entertainment and movies. Visitors come from all over to enjoy the storied, Mediterranean style theatre.

To honor the building's significance, a Tampa lawmaker has submitted a letter asking the government to recognize it as a State Historical Marker.

“This has been a treasured gem in the city of Tampa for over 90 years and I think it truly deserves the designation of a historic landmark,” said Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa. “(This is) something that the state has not recognized and we hope to change that."

If the state approves the designation, the Tampa Theatre would be protected as the downtown area continues to evolve and grow.

The theatre, said its President and CEO John Bell, is much more than just a building.

“It represents the dreams and aspirations of that generation of people who built this building in the 1920s,” he explained. "It represents the vision and the accomplishments of those community leaders that have rescued the building, have supported the theatre’s restoration over the many years. And perhaps most importantly, it represents faith in the future of our city -- faith that was evident in 1926 when this place was built and faith that is very much alive today.”

For many in the bay area, including Tampa Theatre Board Chair Anne Pittman, the building also has personal significance.

Credit Nicole Slaughter Graham / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Exterior view of the Tampa Theatre

“I did come on several field trips here, so that is how I experienced the theatre, unlike my mom and my grandmother, who saw many movies here,” she said. “Now that we’re seeing the new revitalization of downtown,  we’re seeing people bring their children to the movies here, and this is becoming a family space again. It’s a really exciting time.”

With so much downtown growth coming at such a rapid pace, Toledo said protecting the theatre as soon as possible is at the top of her to-do list.

She added that once the state’s Historical Resources Division receives her letter, a lengthy application process for Tampa Theatre’s State Historical Marker designation begins.

“Hopefully this will happen within a six month period and we hope to have it (the designation) done by the end of the year.”   

Nicole Slaughter Graham is a WUSF Stephen Noble Intern for the 2019 spring semester.
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