Is it ridiculous to think that Tampa Theatre could be the heart of downtown Tampa's redevelopment?
The beloved landmark, a community treasure since 1926, is one of America's best-preserved examples of grand movie palace architecture. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it continues to host about 700 screenings and events annually. And along with its North Franklin Street neighbor The Hub — that standby bar, cherished for potent cocktails despite its new cafeteria-like environ — Tampa Theatre is a consistent and affordable nighttime draw.
Many movie palaces of its era, sunk by competition from suburban movieplexes, had already been demolished by 1973, when the city of Tampa assumed the theater's long-term leases. The Arts Council of Hillsborough County, supported by Tampa Theatre Foundation, has managed it since, creating something of a model for how to save an endangered theater.
The latest development in Tampa Theatre's ongoing preservation is the restoration of its marquee and seven-story vertical "blade" sign (spelling TAMPA).
A marquee lighting celebration begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16, followed at 7:15 p.m. by a free screening of the classic musical West Side Story, featuring a restored print with digital sound.
Flipping the switch to light the marquee: Mayor Pam Iorio, Tampa City Council Chairwoman Linda Saul-Sena, Tampa Theatre Foundation Chairman Bob Glaser and Tampa Theatre President/CEO John Bell.
Once the marquee is lit, a commemorative photo will be taken with a camera perspective similar to a black-and-white Burgert Brothers photo of a crowd in front of the theater in 1934. The old photo, now one of the theater's postcards, shows the marquee as it was originally designed; letters are lit against a dark background, achieved by screwing bulbs into sockets behind metal letters that were clipped onto the marquee.
The new design replicates this look, but the letters are programmed electronically. The project architect, James L. Jennewein, drew up the design after studying photos and original blueprints of the theater. Original pieces were used as templates, and the entire project was constructed with copper, matching the original materials and finishes in accordance with standards for historic preservation.
Let's hope this much thoughtful planning continues to be put into downtown Tampa.
For more info on Tampa Theatre, visit www.tampatheatre.org, simply see a film there or attend one of staff member Tara Schroeder's Balcony-to-Backstage Tours.
Tampa Theatre is located at 711 Franklin St., Tampa. 813-274-8981.