The holidays are a time to spend with family and friends. While in NJ my family and I had our share of holiday traditions. On Christmas Eve my brother and I would freeze our asses off in the garage filling our luminaries with sand and candles to be displayed on the street corner in our effort to be the “best looking neighborhood”. After they were all set up it was time to head to church for the Christmas pageant. I mean- there are only so many ways to tell the story of Jesus’ birth, but I have to say, they got creative. (Not to mention I got to play Mary one year- what what!?) After church we did Christmas Eve dinner, lit the luminaries and capped off the night with some friendly penny poker. Other traditions included the neighborhood holiday party, the living nativity, and driving around and checking out the Christmas lights. Unfortunately those traditions have been put in the past and we are forced to create new traditions here in Florida. So let me tell you about my new favorite Tampa tradition- seeing a classic Christmas movie at the Tampa Theatre. This year we would be seeing It’s a Wonderful Life.
My mom and I decided a few weeks ago that we would see the movie this weekend, but while browsing the TBT, I noticed they would be holding a backstage tour that morning. While walking home from work yesterday, I scooped up tickets to the tour and the movie at their location on Franklin St. The tour only cost $5 and ran about 90 minutes long, and the movie was $8.50. (Fun Fact: The cost of a ticket on opening night in 1926-25 cents) Good thing I got the tickets early because when we got there around 11:20 the line was about 25 people deep. We VIP-styled it past the line and made our way into the lobby of the theatre. I had been there twice before to see Miracle on 34th St. and Gone with the Wind, but each time you go it’s a different experience.
About two minutes into the tour, our guide John had informed us that the theatre opened on Oct. 15, 1926 and was designed by architect John Eberson. We made our way past the concession stand (which was added to the theatre in 1978) and headed upstairs. This is where the secrets came out. The entire theatre was designed to resemble an outdoor courtyard, including birds- real, stuffed birds. There are two hanging macaws (brought in from NY) in the lobby area, about 12 or so doves and even a peacock that are seen throughout the establishment. Next up were the gargoyles that adorn the ceiling. Did you know that they are named for the noise water makes while coming out of them since they are designed as downspouts for rainfall? (Am I the only one that had no idea?)
Afterwards we made our way into the seating area. John told us that there are around 1400 seats and although they are not original to the theatre, a lot of the furniture is in fact from 1926. He showed us where the organ pipes are located and where you can find Christopher Columbus on the bottom right hand corner of the facade. Looking around you really do feel as though you are outside. The ceiling is domed out and has lights that sparkle to resemble the night sky. John told us that the lights are intentionally dimmed to keep a sort of mystery to the architecture.
Once we made our way downstairs we saw where Columbus parked his boat the Santa Maria, in the back of the seating area. Next to the ship was an old telephone on the wall. It was explained to us that they were used to communicate from the front of the house to the back. (I thought this was very advanced for that time period- my solution would have been a carrier pigeon) Finally- we came to my favorite part of the tour- backstage. I have always wanted to go backstage, and while this wasn’t as glamorous as say a rock concert it was equally as interesting. We took the stairs down and discovered a narrow hallway that led straight across. Down there we found a tiny bathroom and a few dressing rooms. My favorite part had to be the organ though.
It was a tight squeeze to get into the organ area but it was amazing to see the size of the organ. Being someone that grew up playing the flute the organ was totally overwhelming. There were so many rows of keys, not to mention the toe keys, and the fact that you can be rising up from under the stage or lowering back down to it. I had a hard enough time sitting in one spot and playing the 30 or so keys on a flute. (Let’s be honest- I had no idea what I was doing- Sorry Mr. Belsky) So watching Bob Logan play the organ was quite a treat.
Once the tour was over we had about an hour and a half to kill. We grabbed lunch and a glass of wine at Taps before heading back over for the movie. With our advanced tickets in hand we walked in and grabbed a seat. While watching the movie I had a chance to reflect on the day to realize how lucky I am to live in such an amazing city. And although at times I do miss Christmas in NJ and all the traditions we used to have, it’s about moving on and beginning new traditions. And that life in Tampa- well it really is a wonderful life.