Why preservation of old theatres matters – a visual tour of the Tampa Theatre

As a Montrealer, I am always grateful for any chance I get to walk around in March wearing shorts, so when a friend offered to give me and my family a tour of the old Tampa Theatre, I accepted immediately without thinking. I knew nothing of the theatre’s history or what to expect when I walked inside, which made the experience all the more exciting. To call it a “gem” aside from being a clichéd worn out description, really doesn’t do it justice. It feels to me like a time machine that transports you almost immediately into another era, before people had a million different ways to connect online and consume entertainment, wherever and however they want to.

The Tampa Theatre was designed in 1926 by architect John Eberson. He was one of the leading architects of his day known for the “atmospheric” style of design. A kind of all-embracing style that immerses you in an architectural experience with attention paid to every detail, all attuned to providing a singular experience of place that effectively absorbs you into itself so that you forget almost immediately the world you leave behind upon crossing its threshold. The tiled floors, stucco walls, carved and painted columns all conspire in the effect, culminated by an incredibly realistic “night sky” ceiling.

Theatres like the Tampa Theatre were cropping up all over America through the 20s and 30s and were the places where people gathered to watch the first motion pictures, newsreels and experience opulence at every day prices. They were roaringly popular well into the 60s when attendance began declining as families began moving to the suburbs and watching television instead of going out to the theatre. Sadly many theatres like this one were demolished to free up the value of the land on which they stood. The Tampa Theatre itself only narrowly avoided the wrecking ball by a motion passed to preserved with a majority of one vote. (They are still in need of donations to maintain and develop the theatre so if you fall in love with the space as I did you can donate here)

It was a pleasure to walk through the space and we were lucky to have a personal guide leading us through and sharing the stories and history of the spaces we passed through. As a photographer I was unable to get more than a few feet without snapping shots of the décor and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking what an amazing venue the space would make for hosting an event. But words won’t do the space justice so take a look at some of my shots from today and if you are in or plan to travel to Tampa, make time to visit the Tampa Theatre. The tour takes less than an hour and is well worth the time.