Tampa Theatre – Tampa, Florida - Atlas Obscura
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Tampa, Florida

Tampa Theatre

One of the last of the great 1920s movie palaces is a Floridian Greco-Spanish-Persian dreamscape. 

Of all the theatres built by Chicago architect John Eberson, the Tampa Theatre was known to be one of his favorites. One of his most intimate theatres, this Jazz Age movie palace captures the unique atmospheric style he pioneered.

The ceiling is painted to resemble a night sky with twinkling stars, adorned with gargoyles, Greek statues, and other elements of Meditteranean architecture that Eberson encountered on his frequent vacations to Florida. Other highlights include the vaudeville-era dressing rooms and an original Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.

But like many of the grand movie palaces of the 1920s, the Tampa Theatre began a long decline as single-screen theaters became obsolete and many of the affluent patrons moved out to the suburbs. It reached a crisis point in the 1970s, but luckily, by the narrowest of margins, the city council enacted a plan to rescue the theatre and turn it into a community film and cultural center.

Since that time, the Tampa Theatre has enjoyed a revival. In 1978 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it’s now a landmark in the city of Tampa. It’s so beloved a venue that a number of former patrons and employees have allegedly chosen to continue visiting it in the afterlife. Ghosts rumored to haunt the building include the Doorman Robert Green Lanier, the only person known to have died at the theater, from a suspicious second floor fall; Fink Finley, who continues to leave a scent of lilac and cigarette smoke wafting along his path from the balcony to the projector room; and a lady in white believed to be the victim of a carriage accident on the land where the theatre was built.

Know Before You Go

The theater hosts as many as 600 events each year, from first-run films to classic movies, as well as corporate events, educational programs, and a summer filmmaking camp. Check the website for the full schedule.

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