Palm trees and skyscrapers create the beautiful skyline of downtown Tampa. The sprawling metropolitan area is home to many businesses, restaurants, and historical landmarks. Exploring the city’s diverse offerings creates opportunities for everyone to enjoy.
Tampa was incorporated in 1855 and has since grown into a sprawling metropolis. It has become home to a growing and diverse population. Over the years, cultural influence and evolving architectural styles have created unique and beautiful streets of buildings.
One of these stunning buildings is The Tampa Theatre. On Franklin Street, in the center of downtown, the historic building is home to both a growing list of shows. It is also a known hotspot for spiritual activity.
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A Historic Haunted Tampa Theatre
Built in 1926, the Tampa Theatre set a new level of comfort and luxury for movie houses across the country. When the theater opened in October of that year, guests were blown away by the stunning architecture and opulent amenities. It quickly became one of the most popular places to visit in the area.
The first commercial building in the metro area to have air conditioning, The Tampa Theatre offered both an escape from the heat and from reality. For only a quarter, guests could enjoy a film in a comfortable, cool space. As movie-going became a popular pastime in the 1920s, the attendance at the theatre boomed.
In the ’50s, American culture and habits transformed to be more family-centered as couples moved to the suburbs for a slower pace of life. These suburban families also purchased increasingly affordable televisions for their homes. People no longer needed to travel into the city and visit the movie theatres for their entertainment.
Theatres across the country began to suffer financially and many could no longer afford to operate. The same was true for The Tampa Theatre that simply couldn’t afford the increasing costs and decreasing revenue. The beautiful theatre was scheduled to be torn down in 1973 so the land could be used for a more profitable business venture.
Luckily, The Arts Council of Hillsborough County swooped in to save the endangered building. The city council agreed to cancel the demolition and purchase the building. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places, guaranteeing its preservation.
By 1977, the theatre reopened to the public. The Arts Council managed the space and used it to offer showings of diverse films and to stage concerts. It then became an official Tampa City Landmark in 1978, cementing its legacy in the area.
Years later, in 1991, flames swept through the building, destroying much of its beautiful interior. A year was spent painstakingly restoring the space to its original beauty by The Tampa Theatre Foundation. Since then, millions of visitors have passed through the doors of the legendary venue.
The Stunning Space
The Tampa Theatre itself is stunning and truly one of a kind. Its architecture was innovative at the time and remains exceptionally unique to this day. Inspired by a whimsical courtyard scene, the atmosphere in the theatre is impactful as the films it screens.
John Eberson, a famed architect is responsible for the theatre’s creative design. Originally from Chicago, Eberson found the Florida scenery and vibe inspiring. The cultural influences and unique atmosphere show in his stunning use of natural elements in the space.
Eberson installed a twinkling night sky inside the theatre to make guests feel like they are watching a movie under the stars. The details in the architecture surrounding the stage are astounding. The spindles and varied rooftops create an interesting view in front of a backdrop of iconic palm trees.
The old-world style Eberson loved comes through in the details. Gargoyles adorn the walls and the color palette is centered around hues of classic golds and reds. The vines crawling up the walls, as well as birds perched on ledges, adds to the outdoorsy theme.
An impressive organ sits on the stage of The Tampa Theatre. Dubbed The Mighty Wurlitzer, the instrument is nearly as famous as the theatre itself. When the theatre opened in 1926, the organ was used to provide sound during the silent films that were played at the time.
For decades, the organ was moved to a nearby church. It was eventually returned to the theatre and The Central Florida Theatre Organ Society now plays and manages the organ. Today, it’s still played before nightly screenings and used for special concert events.
The Friendly Spirits
Guests at The Tampa Theatre have gotten more than just the show that they are there for throughout the years. Many unexplained and mysterious things have happened in the venue over the years. In fact, the theatre is known as one of the most haunted places in all of the Tampa Bay area.
Visitors have heard mysterious voices and felt eerie feelings like unexplained taps on their shoulders. Paranormal investigators have found extremely high levels of activity in the theatre. The Tampa Theatre itself admits to its many hauntings and has embraced its eternal inhabitants.
The Lady in White
A lady in white has been seen wandering the theatre’s towering balcony. Her dress flows as she floats about the rows of seats. Peacefully gazing towards the stage, she vanishes as quickly as she appears.
One of the most active places in the theatre has been seat number 308. More than a few times, a man has been spotted sitting in the seat when the theatre has been closed. The theatre-goer, donning a fedora, seems to be a guest from the earliest periods of the theatre’s operations.
Fink Finley was a projectionist at The Tampa Theatre in the sixties. One day, in 1965, he unexpectedly suffered a heart attack while showing a film. Unfortunately, Fink later died from the damage to his heart. After working at the theatre for three decades, the dedicated employee seems reluctant to vacate the building.
Fink’s spirit has been spotted and even photographed in the theatre’s projection booth. His image has been seen in the beloved space that he devoted his time to for so many years. However, it seems that his ghost is friendly and just wants to make sure things are still running smoothly.
Robert Lanier was a ticket taker in the theatre during the 1950s. Unfortunately, he never made it home from work one evening. He was found with his skull bashed in, behind the theatre’s ticket booth that he worked out of.
Mysteriously, no one ever figured out who attacked and killed Robert. However, his spirit is likely still wrestling with the unsolved case. Could he be still stuck in the theatre, waiting for redemption for his death?
The Tampa Theatre Today
Today, The Tampa Theatre remains a bustling landmark and entertainment space. It’s the only non-profit theatre in the city, relying on its many members and sponsors. The venue is used to show a wide variety of diverse films and to hold concerts and shows.
In 2017, the theatre underwent a six million dollar renovation and restoration. The goal was to refresh the seating and return the lobby to the original color palette. The original concession stand was refurbished with modern amenities. Many utility systems were also updated and made more functional.
With the varied offerings, there is something for everyone at The Tampa Theatre. Everything from cultural films and documentaries to live music acts can be enjoyed at the venue. Theatre-goers young and old can find something to appreciate in the historic setting.
A Historic Gulf Coast Town
The Tampa Theatre is a treasured landmark. It’s many years of history provide a rich past that can be felt within its lantern-adorned walls. A visit to the space is truly a unique and awe-inspiring experience.
Nearby The Tampa Theatre, there are plenty of sights to see and places to explore. Tampa is home to more than a few supernatural haunts. A walk amongst the warm and breezy gulf coast town can give you an opportunity for an eerie encounter that you won’t soon forget.