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Take a tour of the Tampa Theatre, reopening Friday with a look from 1926

The Shape of Water may have seven Golden Globe nominations, more than any other film, but when it screens at the Tampa Theatre today, the venue is likely to steal the show.

The occasion marks the reopening of the historic 91-year-old theater downtown, which closed Nov. 6 to undergo $6 million in renovations so that it more closely resembles its original 1926 look.

"Just seeing this all come to fruition — wow," theater spokeswoman Jill Witecki said Wednesday as construction wrapped up around her.

"We have been talking about this for years and we'd tell people it would be amazing. Now seeing it, even we are surprised at how amazing it looks."

Among the changes visitors will notice in the main theater are the yellow, boldly patterned carpet and chocolate-hued leather seats, just like the originals and a departure from the red redo of 1976.

The lobby walls are now painted the same bright yellow as in 1926, the gargoyles and signature night-sky ceiling have been refurbished, and four faded, original tapestries were donated to the Tampa Bay History Center and replaced with woven replicas.

In the basement, the floor's small white tiles were replaced with brown and tan checkerboard terrazzo versions — again, just like the originals.

The historic renovations were completed by New York-based EverGreene Architectural Arts, which specializes in grand public spaces.

The company's resume includes the New York Library Public Reading Room and the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.

EverGreene chairman Jeff Greene said this project is special to him, one he's had his eye on for 25 years.

"This is the most intact Eberson theater anywhere — period," he said.

Architect John Eberson gained renown in the early 1900s for the atmospheric style he introduced to nearly 100 movie palaces throughout the United States.

"He invented that style of art," said Greene, who estimates there are fewer than 30 of the theaters left.

Tampa Theatre's renovations also included modern features.

The lobby has a new concession stand. Seating rows have 6 inches of added legroom, made possible by decreasing the seat total from 1,410 to 1,260. The second floor boasts quartz bistro tables, couch-like seating and a bar.

It's all part of the first of two restoration phases.

The second phase will focus on the main theatre's artwork and will cost another $6 million, paid for through grants and donations just as the first phase was. It will start once all funding is secured.

And even though the venue reopens today, phase one work will continue through early 2018.

The basement has painting that needs to be completed. For instance, the main curtain featuring narrow pinstripes like the original is still being manufactured, and the storefront windows along Florida Avenue will be replaced.

The ongoing construction is also reminiscent of 1926, Witecki said with a laugh.

In a photo snapped just hours before the first movie was screened at Tampa Theatre, she said, a man in the background is screwing in lightbulbs.

"Just like back then," she said, "we're not really done, but we've close enough."

Contact Paul Guzzo at
pguzzo@tampabay.com.
Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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