2306 N. Howard Avenue,
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The Royal Theatre was one of two theatres in the West Tampa business district that catered to the locals for many years. Like the Casino Theatre in Ybor City, it was located in the Centro Espanol building of West Tampa. Centro Espanol was a mutual aid society that offered healthcare and social events for its members, and like the Ybor City building it housed a clubhouse at the front, a theatre in the rear, and a dance hall upstairs.
The building was constructed in 1912 and the 800-seat theatre originally featured stage productions, plays, and musicals. Several well-known Cuban performers graced it’s stage. Mary Cintra, The Cuban Bombshell, performed here several times.
Also like the Casino Theatre, Spanish language films were frequently featured. My aunt and grandmother attended several Spanish language films here during the 1940’s and 1950’s. English language films also played especially during the 1950’s based on the newspaper ads. Western double features, serials, cartoons, and newsreels were common attractions.
The theatre closed sometime in the late-1950’s or very early-1960’s. This was just before my interest in theatres had begun so I never had a chance to see a movie here. However, last year I was able to get a small look at the auditorium through a side window. All seats had been removed and the main floor was being used for storage. Stacks of boxes and other items filled a good portion of the auditorium floor. The stage and proscenium appeared to be intact although badly in need of repairs from what I could see.
The clubhouse continued to remain open for various functions for several years afterwards although the theatre remained locked and in darkness for more than 40 years. Around 2002 plans were underway for the building to be cleaned, repaired, and renovated. It was announced that the building was to be purchased by the Urban League for use as a community resource center and headquarters for the Urban League.
The building was cleaned, repaired, and renovated with the exception of the theatre which remained closed for the time being. The plans for the Urban League eventually fell through and the building was closed once again.
In 2009, it reopened for several months as a temporary home for the arts center. In November 2010. I drove by and saw where repair work on the theatre has commenced. The building is used for storage.
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