Royal Theatre

2306 N. Howard Avenue,
Tampa, FL 33607

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Royal Theatre, Tampa FL

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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.

Contributed by Nick DiMaggio

Recent comments (view all 10 comments)

AndyCallahanMajorMajor
AndyCallahanMajorMajor on November 4, 2010 at 7:31 am

Great write-up, Nick. This is a beautiful building that deserves a new life. However, Centro Espanol’s address is 2306 N. Howard, not 1305.

Nunzienick
Nunzienick on November 4, 2010 at 8:16 am

You’re right. I wonder how that happened? I just googled the 2306 address and it’s correct. That’s very strange since I copied the 1305 address from the city directory but evidently I either copied it wrong or the directory is incorrect. And to complicate this even further the address given for the 1914 photo below is 1906 N. Howard! Makes no sense at all.

Theatre entrance is on the left side. Several poster cases were later installed on the wall between the windows. Somewhere at home I have a book with a beautiful color photo showing the Royal Theatre blade sign and the poster cases. I’ll post it soon.
View link

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on November 4, 2010 at 8:06 pm

thanks Nick,for another wonderful write up.Great picture.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on November 4, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Nick,I hope you locate that Motion Picture Almanac i gave you.Great talking on the phone.That Almanac would really help you.

Nunzienick
Nunzienick on November 4, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Nice photo of Royal Theatre blade sign and posters (photo not dated):
View link

Photo of lobby and employees dated 1944:
View link

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on November 5, 2010 at 11:46 am

Nice photos Nick.

Nunzienick
Nunzienick on November 24, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I finally had a chance today to see the interior of the Royal. While driving by the building I saw the rear exit doors were wide open. There were about 20 cars parked in the lot at the rear so I figured there were workers inside continuing renovations. I parked and slowly walked towards the open doors afraid of being stopped and told I could not go inside. As I approached the doors two work- men came out and passed by me without saying a word. So I walked through the doors and stood for a moment on what was once the stage but was now a cement floor. I stood there in awe taking all the former theatre auditorium in.

Seating was gone and the entire auditorium was filled with tall metal shelving loaded with boxes of supplies. The interior walls had been stripped down to the red bricks. Each side wall still had at least three elegant seating boxes in place. The balcony was still there but most of the flooring had been taken out exposing the wooden support beams. I noticed there were two stairways on either end leading up to the balcony but both entrances were sealed with plywood. And of course the projection booth was gone.

I walked through the auditorium to the entrance and into the lobby where I saw a lady sitting at a desk. After explaning that I had wanted to see the theatre for so many years she asked me to hold on while she contacted the guide who would love to give me a tour of the building. So I was given a half-hour tour of the theatre and lobby area, as well as the front portion of the building, and the ballroom on the second floor. The guide explained the new cement flooring in the auditorim is a floating floor meaning it can easily be removed to expose the original sloped theatre floor. The theatre also had an orchestra pit now also covered over with the new flooring.

Huge steel support beams have been installed from one wall to the other high up in the stage loft to help the tall brick structure withstand storms or high winds. The roof is still in need of repairs and is not in the best shape. There were a few rows of seats still in place when the foundation moved in but they were removed by the City of Tampa and placed into storage as well as several other items from the theatre. The building is now under the Hillsborough County School Foundation and the theater is used as a storage area for various supplies. Teachers can purchase supplies here that are needed for their classrooms.

The City of Tampa donated the building to the foundation allowing them to move in and use the facility as long as they maintain it properly. They are not permitted to make any changes or modifications that would destroy it’s historial significance. However, they can add additional rooms or wings to the building as was done when the art museum was temporarily housed there. I asked if it would ever be possible for the theatre to be restored but the answer was that it would take a ballpark figure of about 5 million to completely bring the theatre back to what it once was. So unless they receive a huge surprise donation this will never happen.

That’s such a shame as it would certainly make a beautiful “classic” theatre again. I’m glad I finally had the chance at last to see the interior.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on November 27, 2010 at 7:15 am

Thanks Nick,Glad you got to see it first hand,thanks for the posting.

Nunzienick
Nunzienick on November 28, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Thanks Tisloews. It was a nice informative tour. I forgot to mention the proscenium was still there although nearly hidden from view by the tall shelving. The “R” embossed in the coat-of-arms is still visible in the top center.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on May 7, 2011 at 10:52 am

Wow,Nick what a story and I am JUST reading the dang thing.

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