The Tampa Theater is an unusual success story in the uphill battle against the growing tendency of chain cinemas

Many historic and art house venues, have their roots deeply seated in the magical era of vaudeville and silent film. One of these structural luminaries is located in Tampa, Florida and retains the stunning art deco architecture that thrilled audiences who lined up to see the latest Fred Astaire film. Built in 1926, the Tampa Theater sits in the vicinity of Franklin Street in Tampa, and is as popular today as it was in the roaring 20’s, succeeding where so many other historical and art house venues failed; to survive the pressure of including the Imax experience and reclining leather chairs.

CITY PLACE, West Palm Beach, Florida (2015, 10 September). Front view of Muvico Multiplex theater, which offers viewers the Imax experience. Photo by: Adriana Delgado.
CITY PLACE, West Palm Beach, Florida (2015, 10 September). Front view of Muvico Multiplex theater, which offers viewers the Imax experience. Photo by: Adriana Delgado.

In an article published last week, Art Film File discussed how the elbowing in of the modern movie venues seemed to be kicking out the smaller theaters in Florida. Granted it is not limited to the Sunshine State, but it certainly seems that more and more indie theaters are being pushed out to make way for the new.

In 1973, the Tampa Theater seemed to be headed towards an unavoidable date with the wrecking ball. According to their website, everything was prepared for its demise, until a group of concerned Tampa citizens heard the news, which provoked them to rally against its disappearance. The city of Tampa eventually rescued the theater in 1977, and is now operated as “a dynamic film and cultural center”, run by the Tampa Theater Foundation. It’s also managed to join the social media platforms successfully, securing some eleven thousand followers on Twitter and an equally important presence on Facebook.

Jill Witecki director of Marketing and Communications Relations of the Tampa Theater, told Art Film File that this historic venue offers moviegoers a more “authentic experience than what any of the dozens of nondescript chain theaters can provide”. Considering that the the Tampa Theater comes equipped with an authentic pipe organ which would play the music score during the silent film era, it certainly is an unforgettable experience for anyone that appreciates not only the experience of viewing a film, but also highly regards its history and role in an era that is long gone. Witecki’s view seems to coincide with those of Stonzek Theater manager Charlie Birnbaum. “I think that people come here because we’re different. We don’t offer alcohol or elaborate snacks.  We just offer a good selection of movies that the public will hopefully like. We do have popcorn and candy though”, Birnbaum said humorously.

TAMPA, Florida. The mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ, a relic from the theater's silent film days, is still played before most film screenings. Photo courtesy: The Tampa Theater.
TAMPA, Florida. The mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ, a relic from the theater’s silent film days, is still played before most film screenings. Photo courtesy: The Tampa Theater.

In regards to South Florida, and Palm Beach County in particular, the only venue to offer the same style of indie films engulfed in a historic structure is the Stonzek Theater. Located next door to the Lake Worth Playhouse, it runs as an independent film venue, which on occasion also hosts Q&A sessions with the directors, actors and writers of some of the films screened there, as was the case last week with the film Tangerine. After its Saturday evening showing, the Stonzek hosted a Skype Q&A with Chris Bergoch, co-writer of Tangerine, who gave some interesting behind-the scenes insights.

LAKE WORTH, Fl (2015, 10 September).  Main screening room of the Stonzek Theater. Photo by: Adriana Delgado.
LAKE WORTH, Fl (2015, 10 September). Main screening room of the Stonzek Theater. Photo by: Adriana Delgado.

Film venues like the Tampa Theater and the Stonzek Theater offer moviegoers a different kind of experience that can’t be obtained in a chain multiplex. It offers the feeling of being amidst something that was part of film history; a unique view to the past when film was young and still considered somewhat a miraculous phenomenon by wide-eyed spectators.

About ADRIANA DELGADO 67 Articles
Art Film File is a site for cinephiles ,who like myself, have a deep respect, love, and admiration for independent and foreign films of every era. Readers who follow Art Film File are for the most part adverse to the "Hollywood Blockbuster" theorem (although there are many good ones out there) showing instead a strong inclination to connect with films that explore topics such as life, identity and philosophy without necessarily following a neat studio-oriented narrative. In the past, much like it is now, many independent and foreign films get done many times with countless challenges. Small budgets, little or no outside funding and absence of willing distributors are some of the problems that many American and foreign independent filmmakers face regularly. Art Film File acts as a conduit in bringing these films, past and present, to the public's attention. Art Film File is also a site that displays detailed reviews about films they haven't seen as well as for films they have seen and wish to share their own views. I plan to include interviews with filmmakers and actors of indie and foreign films in addition to articles depicting topics of interest for readers who already follow Art Film File and for those waiting to discover it. Adriana Delgado Founder and Blog Manager of Art Film File

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