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Thanks, tampapix. I moved from Sulphur Springs to near downtown Tampa in 1964, so the 1966 opening explains why I didn’t remember it.
I don’t recall a Shakey’s Pizza there, but my experience is limited to the 1960s. What time period are you talking about?
Thanks, Dan, for enhancing the Tower signage photo. I did, indeed, come across a poor-quality version of the photo at another site. This is great. Too bad there isn’t a shot of the concession stand, or of all the cars in the theater. I guess we should feel lucky to have the signage.
I left the Tower at the end of 1963, USF diploma in hand. Ernie Plitz was still manager. Regrettably, I lost touch with the Tower gang after I started my career, so I can’t tell you when she came along.
Thanks, Tampapix for the Tower photos. Do you have any more?
That’s a great picture of the marquee of the Tower. It brings back memories of when I would change the letters late at night (in the early 1960s), after the last showing of the current picture had started and the box office had closed. Where did it come from?
I am impressed with your knowledge of theater ownerships, Nick. I had no idea when I worked at the Tower who owned it. And yes, I was very fortunate to have Mr. Plitz as a manager. I wish I could talk to him today and thank him, but he passed away many years ago.
Nick, don’t sell your stories short. I liked the one about the friends pulling away without removing the speaker. I bet your friends had had a few drinks.
We didn’t get any Christmas bonus, but the manager did throw a great Christmas party with booze and lots of food. It’s where I met my future wife. She had come along with a neighbor friend of hers who worked at the concession stand. The manager was pretty good about letting employees bring friends and relatives along in the employee’s car, but I don’t think we ever received any passes to hand out.
The manager, Ernie Plitz, was a retired Navy officer who had a gruff exterior but a heart of gold. He knew I was going to college on a shoestring budget, and when the theatre closed for the winter he offered me the same number of hours. But it was sort of a handyman’s job. I remember repairing and re-painting the marquee letters and doing other odd jobs around the place. He helped me stay in school, and I am forever grateful.
Nick, that’s a scary thought about snakes coming up through the toilet. I’d love to hear some of your stories about your time at the Dale Mabry Drive-In.
I have another one about the Tower to share. I’m not proud of it, but at the time I thought it would be cute to enhance my girlfriend’s chances of winning a Caribbean cruise—a Tower promotion—by “enhancing” her number of entries in the bowl. If she won, I thought, we could enjoy a nice getaway at no cost.
Well, she did win the trip, and shortly afterwards dumped me and left town. She took a girlfriend on the trip, and let me know what a great time she had. I was devastated, but I decided I deserved it. A good lesson about life’s unexpected twists and turns.
I used to take my two young daughters there all the time, during the late ‘70s and early '80s. It was a nice theater doing a brisk business back then. But the neighborhood deteriorated over time (I moved my family out of there in 1988), and the theatre eventually closed. I have good memories of enjoying family pictures with the kids.
We never had any trouble with alligators when I was at the Tower Drive-In. There was a fence that kept all of us, including our customers, from wandering down to the river, but I don’t remember what type. We did, however, have a few incidents with snakes wandering into the bathrooms or projection booth. I managed to be somewhere else when it came time to clear them out.
Thanks, Nick. As I recall, the Hilltop was right on the corner of Florida and Waters (there might have been a gas station there as well). It sounds like the steahouse and grocery store were built on the original Hilltop property.
It’s interesting to think about the fact that both trailer parks and drive-in theatres were victims of the rising cost of land in developing areas. Trailer parks back then were more acceptable to a wider range of residents that they are today. Maybe Florida is different, but here in Virginia people are very wary of people who live in trailer parks. I still have a warm place in my heart for them, just as I do drive-in theatres.
The Hilltop was an interesting place. It was the winter home of a lot of Barnum & Bailey employees, including some of the performers (the circus itself wintered in Sarasota). I remember the Fat Lady sitting out in front of her trailer with a skimpy outfit trying to get a suntan, while eating a bunch of bananas to keep up her weight. We also had a sword swallower, who used to give impromptu performances to the kids in the park. I suspect some of the roustabouts had a police record, but we never had any trouble with them.
Thanks, tampapix. That’s a pretty good indication of the size of the park, although I think what appears to be woods on the east side is an extension of the park as I remember it. Perhaps there was an expansion between the time of the photo, 1957, and the time I moved in, 1960. Or maybe it was just more woodsy than the rest of the park. In any event, it’s a great shot. Thanks again.
The trailer park didn’t go all the way over to the dog track (there was a large open field in between), but it was a fairly large park nevertheless. A lot of snowbirds from Michigan and Ohio would come down and spend the winter. They were great people. I lived there for the nearly four years it took to get through college. My mother, who also lived there, bought an old trailer and let me use it for housing. All I had to do was pay the $19 monthly lot fee and the electric bill. I even took in a roommate to help with the expenses. Pretty good deal.
Prior to college, we lived in another trailer park called the Hilltop, which was at the top of the hill across Florida Avenue from the Tower park. It was smaller and less woodsy. I don’t know what’s there now. At the bottom of the hill on Florida was a McDonald’s, which opened while I was in college. It must have been one of the first in Tampa. I had never seen anything like it. Hamburgers for 15 cents and fries for a dime. A cheap supper for a guy with no money. Is it still there?
I don’t remember where we went skinny dipping. It wasn’t the “river” behind the drive-in. We could hear alligators at night there. I think it was a creek feeding the Hillsborough River, but I don’t recall where.
Talk about bad luck! Opening a mall anchored by Zayre and Montgomery Ward must have been somebody’s idea of a bad joke (perhaps another version of Springtime for Hitler?). Thanks, Nick, for the history of the property after the Floriland closed. As I said, I was pretty young when I worked there but I enjoyed it.
When I found out the State was going to open a brand-new university north of Tampa called University of South Florida in 1960, I enrolled and then went looking for part-time work. I chose the Tower Drive-In because it was across the street from where I lived—the Tower Trailer Park. The park encompassed a lot of the property along Florida Avenue from Bird Street up to the top of the hill on Waters Avenue, and eastward toward the greyhound track. It was a lovely wooded park that was later leveled for commerce. I think a Super K-Mart was built on the property. It was a bad trade-off for society, in my view.
The Tower Drive-In folks were very friendly and jovial. After we closed and cleaned up the place on the weekends, we would break open the booze and sit around on top of our cars all huddled together, and solve the problems of the world. We also had a habit of going skinny dipping at a local watering hole after getting smashed. That made for some embarrassing moments the next night when we all showed up for work sober.
By the way, I actually cut my teeth on another drive-in when I was about 16…the Floriland on Florida Avenue, north of the big mall built back in the 50’s. I think it was called Northgate Mall. I was a flunkee at the Floriland. The manager was Garland Flowers, a prissy older gentleman who was always nice to me. J.M. Fields but a big-box store next door and the lights hurt business. I remember the Fields roof collapsing, but I don’t recall why. I was too young to be in on the mischief at the Floriland, but it was good prep work for my experiences at the Tower.
Yes, Nick, I was actually afraid to show up for work for the next week or so. But I guess it was too dark during the chase, because he never spotted me. And I can assure you that I never worked the back rows again. I live in Virginia now, but get back to Tampa once in awhile. The wife and I always stop by the Tower property and reminisce about the drive-in’s heyday. We did a brisk business back then, with cars backed up onto Florida Avenue waiting to get in on the weekend. I was going to USF then and didn’t have two dimes to rub together, but I would bring my girl each night and she would watch the
movie and wait for me to get off work. It was a cheap way to date.
As part of my initiation as a new employee of the Tower in 1960, I was told to go to the back rows of the Tower toward the end of the second feature and tell couples not sitting up that they had to stop what they were doing. A huge guy came pouring out if his car with his pants down and started chasing me. He couldn’t get up any speed while pulling on his pants, or I would have taken a beating. My co-workers were laughing all the way. Those were the days.
Based on the movies advertised outside, this photo appears to be from the mid-1940s. When I went to it in the early and mid-1950s, there was a large banner hanging across the front that said “Cool Inside,” a reference to air conditioning…something that was still a novelty to most of us. I was 12 or 13 at the time, but it was still a thrill to go to the Saturday matinee.
As a young boy, I used go to the Saturday matinees with the neighbor kids. Two westerns, a cartoon carnival and a serial (Rocket Man, Flash Gordon, etc.) took all afternoon. Afterward, we stopped at the corner drugstore on Buffalo and Nebraska for a cherry Coke from the fountain. They were great times.
I have great memories of the Tower Drive-In. Worked there while attending USF, 1960-63. I was box office cashier, working for Ernie Plitz, great man and manager of the place. Met my future wife there. Now married 45 years. Projectionist was Harry Smith. We did great business back then. It’s sad to see the vacant property now.