Music Issue: Where the music played — historic Tampa Bay venues

These are all gone.

Tampa Jai Alai Fronton.

1930:  The Armory

Funding from the Works Progress Administration in the late 1930s enabled the construction of Tampa’s Fort Homer Hesterly Armory (now NoHo’s Jewish Community Center) just north of Kennedy between Armenia and Howard avenues. Elvis played there four times. They do swim lessons at the JCC these days. 

1950s: Tampa Jai Alai Fronton

On the corner of Gandy Boulevard and S. Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa sat a 4,000-capacity building where super-athletes used cestas (hand-held baskets) to sling and smack a ball off the concrete walls as spectators gambled on the outcomes. In the off-season, however, the Jai Alai Fronton Hall (opened in 1953) hosted shows by Billy Joel (’77), Bob Marley (’79) and Billy Idol (’84), among others. CL’s Gabe Echazabal says that a 1981 show by Devo “smacked him in the head like a two-by-four” en route to changing the way he would see and hear music forever. The good times came to an end for the Fronton in 1998, but politicians floated the idea of reviving the sport in Tampa as recently as 2015.

1965: Bayfront Center

It was home to professional basketball (the ABA’s The Floridians), pre-Lightning hockey (St. Petersburg Suns) and even the Rowdies (who played indoor soccer there). We liked it best as a concert hall, where Elvis Costello and The Attractions played a kickass set in ’82 and where The Smiths played their only Bay area show (The Queen is Dead tour in 1986). Bayfront Center was demolished in 2004 — the Dali Museum now occupies that site — and the adjacent theater is now called the Mahaffey. Watch a 1988 set from the Grateful Dead here.


1965: Curtis Hixon Hall

Tampa’s “large venue” for about two decades, this  62,000-square-foot room was demolished in ‘93, but in its heyday hosted a who’s who of rock acts, including Hendrix (’68), Bowie (’74) and Dylan (’76). In 1983, Gabe Echazabal met U2 after a show on a tour supporting its third LP, War. “It was easy to wait around the back of the venue to see the bands come in and out before and after the shows,” Echazabal remembers. “It was certainly an enormous day in my life when those four young Irishmen came out to chat with me and the friends I was with back on that warm June night.”

1980s: London Victory Club

A place to hear old wave when it was new wave, downtown Tampa’s London Victory Club was pretty lax on checking IDs, which meant that youngsters like Gabe (who admittedly looked like a 40-year-old when he was just 17) grew up at this Franklin Street haunt where acts like X, Hoodoo Gurus (’86) and Cyndi Lauper (’84) played just across the street from what’s now the Franklin Manor. An all-ages daytime buffet made it easy for scheming yutes to hide in a dark corner undetected until things picked up in the evening. LVC closed in ’87. 

1981: Club Detroit

Another good spot to be mischievous and underage (drinking beer in the bathroom!), this St. Pete institution operated from 1981-1995. CL managing/online editor and musician-about-town Scott Harrell recalls seeing bands like Primus, Gas Huffer and Paw, and taking part in a few of Freaks Rule's Brotherhood Jams.


1990s: Jazz Cellar

The sound system and acoustics were a highlight of this joint, but it closed in the mid ’90s due to lack of business. Yo u can hear glimpses of the house band if you check out a show featuring Jim Burge or drummer Ken Loomer, and there’s some pretty good sound at The Attic at Rock Brothers Brewing, but those two forces haven’t combined as of yet… [Read our latest update on Tampa Bay jazz here.]

1990s: Junction Pizza

A 2004 article in CL called it a true all-ages spot where bands could learn to play alongside the occasional national headliner. The Queers played there in ’94, but you deserve to Google a 1996 Fox baseball commercial starring Lenny Dykstra and Tampa’s own Joe Popp. There’s also a December 2017 reunion in the works, so keep an eye out for that. 

1995: The Rubb

In a 2004 issue, Harrell and former CL senior writer Eric Snider described Michael Tubbs as an”independently wealthy and extremely nice Gainesville native [with] a dream to create a big, plush, modern, top-notch venue in the midst of Ybor’s danceterias and cover-band bars devoted almost exclusively to original music.” He made it happen for a while by hosting bands like Morris Day & the Time, Jesus Lizard, Warren Zevon and a slew of dance DJs at The Rubb. Sightlines were impeccable, but The Rubb closed its doors in 2009 1999 after four years booking some of Ybor’s most eclectic programming. (It’s now home to the Honey Pot.)

Read more about the music issue here.


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Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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