1536 7th Avenue,
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The Casino Theatre was located in the rear portion of the Centro Espanol Building in Ybor City. The building was completed in 1912 and housed a clubhouse, a dance hall, and a theatre. Centro Espanol was a mutual aid society that offered healthcare and social activities for their club members.
The Casino Theatre was originally a playhouse theatre featuring stage productions and musical acts for many years. It was later converted for movies in addition to stage productions. Spanish language films were presented exclusively to entertain the vast Cuban and Spanish population of Ybor City.
These films played for years up until the early 1960’s when the Casino Theatre began running X-rated adult films in addition to risque stage productions featuring barely-clothed ladies. During this period the theatre became known as the Casino Follies. The adult films and stage shows continued up until the last day of December 1965 when they moved to The Ritz Theatre. The Ritz had been purchased by the Casino’s owners and had transistioned over from standard fare to adult films and nudie stage shows.
The Casino Theatre then reverted back to running Spanish language films once again and would occasionally feature popular English language films as well. In 1969 I saw a double feature here, "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "The Venetian Affair" in English with Spanish subtitles. I also saw "Gone With the Wind" with Spanish subtitles.
During one of my visits I saw the projectionist walk downstairs and go out the front evidently for a smoke or fresh air. I quickly went upstairs to the closed balcony and saw the booth door was wide open. Looking in I glanced at the running projector for several seconds then quickly made my way back down. Such a thrill!
The theatre interior was ancient and looked it. The side walls near the front featured boxed seating that apparently hadn’t been used in decades. Both the main level and balcony had a wooden floor so whenever someone walked in you could hear them coming.
The Casino Theatre probably closed sometime around the early-to-mid 1970’s. It remained closed until the opening of the Centro Ybor Shopping Plaza around 2000 when it was completely rennovated and today is home to the Tampa Improv Comedy Club.
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