700 Tampa Street,
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The Victory Theater opened in 1920 as one of downtown Tampa’s premier theaters. Located on the northwest corner of Tampa Street and Zack Street, it opened as a live playhouse venue featuring vaudeville and stage plays in addition to silent, and later sound films. Capacity was 1,200 which was reduced decades later when theater was remodeled for Cinerama.
The Palace Theater was owned and operated by ABC Florida State Theaters. In 1947 it was completely renovated and modernized to the plans of Jacksonville based architectural firm Kemp, Bunch & Jackson. Luxurious drapery was installed throughout much of the auditorium. The theater reopened on Christmas Day 1947 as the New Palace Theater.
It was the first theater in Tampa to show CinemaScope in 1953. Introduced shortly after 3-D films had hit theaters, CinemaScope was advertised as “the modern miracle you see without glasses” and “the new wide modern miracle mirror screen and stereophonic sound”. “The Robe” was the first CinemasScope feature and it played for several weeks.
Nine years later in 1962 the Palace Theater was completely renovated once again for the installation of the three projector process known as Cinerama. To accommadate Cinerama a new screen was installed in front of the old stage, and the first few rows of seats on the orchestra level were removed. A new booth housing the three 35mm projectors was built on the main level center section and the last three rows of seats at the rear were also removed.
The curvature of the screen also required the removal of several seats at the far end of the right and left sections in the orchestra as well as the balcony thus reducing the capacity from 1,200 to 750. New ceiling-to-floor red curtains hid the massive screen which was curved at 146 degrees and measured 75' wide and 32' high. Eleven speakers surrounded the audience with seven-track stereo sound.
The Palace Theater presented Cinerama exclusively for the west coast of Florida. It was the only theater within 500 miles equipped to show Cinerama, and it attracted large crowds from miles around. Many showings were sold-out for the first few weeks of each film’s opening. All films played as “roadshow” engagements: two performances per day, reserved seating, an intermission midway through the feature, a musical prelude before the film, and exit music at the end.
The presentations were more refined than those at standard theaters. Prior to the start of the film the musical prelude would began playing for several minutes, and the main auditorium lights would fade very slowly. This was followed by the dimming of the red lights illuminating the main curtain as the film began and the curtain parted.
The initial feature, “This Is Cinerama”, with it’s famed roller coaster sequence, had the more sensitive patrons grasping their armrests tightly and feeling a bit queasy. The film was followed by six other Cinerama productions:
“Seven Wonders Of The World”, “Cinerama Holiday”, “The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm”, “Search For Paradise”, “South Seas Adventure”, and “How The West Was Won”.
Prices were slightly higher than standard theaters, and tickets could be purchased in advance either at the box office or by mail. Because of the limited seating capacity it was advisable to order tickets weeks in advance of the opening of the next Cinerama attraction as most new films sold-out weeks in advance.
During the first few weeks of each new opening there were very few available tickets for walk-ups. Initially only drinks and candies were available at the concession counter; no popcorn or foods were sold.
“How The West Was Won” was the last film to play in the three-projector process. The expense of producing these films plus the cost of exhibition (a five man crew was required for every showing) eventually forced the fading out of the Cinerama Corporation. The three-projectors were stripped out and 35/70mm projectors were installed. For 70mm presentations the screen was masked down to 58' wide by 32' high. The width remained the same for 35mm widescreen presentations but the height was reduced to approx 25'.
The 35mm roadshow presentation of “The Sound Of Music” smashed all box office receipts when the film opened in April 1965 and played through September 1966 – a record breaking one year and five months. Among several other big attractions that played were: “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World”, “Mary Poppins”, “Gone With The Wind”, “Dr. Zhivago”, and “Cleopatra”. The following films played in 70mm Cinerama: “Grand Prix”, “Circus World”, “Song of Norway”, “Krakatoa East Of Java”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and “Ice Station Zebra”. “2001” played for three months initially and was later brought back several times in both 70mm and 35mm.
Other notable films continued into the early-1970’s but as moviegoers began patronizing the newer suburban theaters and audiences began dwindling more and more, so did the quality of films. The 70mm versions of both “This Is Cinerama"and "The Sound Of Music” returned in 1973 and ran for several weeks apiece. “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid”, “The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie”, “The Poseidon Adventure”, “The Last Picture Show”, and a re-release of “The Exorcist” were just few of the last notable films to run.
By the mid-1970’s the Palace Theater had closed and the entrance was boarded up. During this time the Tampa Theater, a block away, had been playing second run double features and black exploitation films. When Florida State Theaters finally closed the Tampa Theater they reopened the Palace Theater just a few days later, and continued running the same product that had been playing at the Tampa Theater.
On September 29, 1978, the Palace Theater finally closed for good. The building remained boarded up until it was demolished in December 1979. The land was paved over and used as a parking lot for many years. A high rise condo was eventually constructed on the site.
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