Tampa Theatre is the city’s only non-profit theater. Operating costs are mostly covered by its membership program, various corporate sponsors as well as ticket sales. It features a wide variety of independent, foreign and documentary films and has been used as a backdrop for movies, MTV videos and local programming. The theatre was built in 1926 and officially opened on October 15 the same year.
John Eberson designed it to reflect Florida Mediterranean including touches of Italian Renaissance, Byzantine, Spanish, Mediterranean, Greek Revival, Baroque, and English Tudor and seats 1,446. Inside, audiences are transported to a lavish, romantic Mediterranean courtyard complete with old world statuary, flowers, and gargoyles. Above them is a nighttime sky with twinkling stars and floating clouds. For decades, the Tampa remained a centerpiece in the city’s culture. People were treated like royalty uniformed ushers and attendants, sole kisses in the balcony and followed the weekly newsreels.
By the ‘60s and ‘70s, America’s economy shifted. More and more people fled to the suburbs, leaving the downtown business districts to slowly die off. The Tampa’s audiences dwindled as the costs rose. Many of the nation’s movie palaces were demolished as the land became more valuable than the building. In 1973, The Tampa Theatre faced the same fate. But in this case, Tampa citizens and City leaders got involved until an agreement was made. The city rescued it by assuming its leases. The Arts Council of Hillsborough County agreed to manage the special events, concerts and films. The theatre reopened in 1978 and became a national model on how to save an endangered theatre.
The theatre is believed to be haunted by three ghosts. Foster "Fink" Finley worked in the theatre’s projection room. He died on December 17, 1965 of a heart attack while working the projector. Hogley "Hog" Higley worked in the concession stand. He also died on the job on September 16, 1962. Godfrey "God" Gidget entered the 16-mm Shrine through the screen and disappeared on October 23, 1959. Visitors have reported mysterious gushes of air throughout the theatre, and voices.