Monday, January 22, 2018
Opinion

The Tampa Theatre transports moviegoers to a larger-than-life experience

When you reach a certain — ahem — age, flashbacks can come at the oddest moments. And the older you get, the more there is to flashback to.

It is said the venerated Tampa Theatre is haunted. And it certainly is, in a number of ways. If you were lucky enough to grow up in a time before today's mega-mega-mega plexes with scores of screens showing mostly dreadful flicks, there was the classic movie house.

These were ornately decorated places where the ambience suggested what was about to happen in the dark was something special. And more often than not it was.

You sit in the Tampa Theatre. The lights dim and suddenly you are transported not only into the magic unfolding on the screen, but you are taken back to the ghost of your youth when you first discovered there really were such things as "larger than life."

It's what I love about that old building.

In the Akron of my youth, it was the Colonial, downtown. On a summer day in 1964, my friend Moose ordered me to get down to the Colonial as soon as possible where we sat through Goldfinger three times. You grow up in a place where air smells like a Goodyear polyglass tire 12 months a year and the world of Bond, James Bond takes on an even more exotic fragrance.

The movies were an escape. The Colonial and the Highland Theater nearer my home, with their trappings of elegance offered a weekly hours long furlough into a world of adventure, drama, love and comedy — all for the taking with 25-cents.

Little wonder, I would eventually become a film critic.

These were places offering a universal respite to fuel a young man's fantasies. To this day, mention the Tampa Theatre, with its somewhat pretentious "re" rather than "er," to middle-aged Tampa natives and their response to the impact the place had on their youth is virtually identical to mine.

It's not just a movie theater. It's a time travel machine.

And it's one of Tampa's crown jewels, which opened long ago and far away in 1926. Like many aging dowagers of cinema, the Tampa Theatre got fat and dowdy and unkempt. But in 1978, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Now restored to its original glory, the theater is a centerpiece in downtown Tampa's resurgence.

If you are new to Tampa and especially if you are a movie buff, you need to put the Tampa Theatre on your civic bucket list. Turn the clock back. Sit in the balcony. Make out. It's just a suggestion.

Mother's Day. The Azalea of Athens wanted to see Monsieur Lazhar, a wonderful Canadian film, which was showing at the Tampa Theatre. Fine with me.

There's an experience that occurs whenever I go a baseball game. It's that moment when you walk through the concourse and into the stands when you take in the greenery (artificial though it may be) and the ambience of the ballpark is spread out before you.

It's similar too, at the Tampa Theatre. The gilded walls. The lighting. The curtains. And of course the Mighty Wurlitzer organ. Something special is about to happen. A movie. I'm such a sap for the movies.

The Sunflower of Sparta is a patient woman. By now, she has grown accustomed to my movie habits. I like to get there early and settle in. I like the previews of coming attractions. After all these years, I still revel in the anticipation of the dimming of the lights.

I can't wait. Something special is about to happen. A movie.

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