The Ritz Theatre
From Silent Films to Rock Concerts
The Ritz is one of the oldest and most venerable entertainment venues in Ybor City. The Ritz began life as the Rivoli Theater. It was built in 1917 by M. Leo Elliot. Though numerous renovations have changed the layout of the building, the classic structural design remains. The building is a mirror image of the original Ritz Theatre, built in New York built in 1913.
In its early years, the theatre showed silent films, including those featuring famous actors Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Most of the attendees were Cubans and Italians who worked in the cigar factories.
During the 1930s the Rivoli Theatre was renamed the Ritz Theatre. The expanded movie theatre could seat up to 700 people. Attendance was good from the 1930s to the early 1960s, but hard times hit the theatre and the last film was shown on December 31, 1965. The closing of the Ritz corresponded with a major economic decline in Ybor City. Many other businesses closed or were bought out. The Ritz was converted into an Adult Movie House. This venture did not last and shut down. The former Ritz Theatre remained closed for a decade.
A resurgence in Ybor City’s nightlife in the 1980s brought new life to the Ritz. Another renovation turned the adult film theatre into a club known as the Masquerade. Bands like Foo Fighters and De La Soul performed there, attracting local students from the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa.
While the Masquerade was a very popular club, it didn't last, finally shutting down in 2006. The Ritz reopened under new management in 2008. A $2 million renovation attempted to restore the Ritz to its original specifications. The newly restored Ritz is one of the biggest concert venues in Ybor City, attracting national touring acts like Tech N9ne, Mos Def, Twenty-One Pilots, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Dropkick Murphys.
This historic building has had a long-lasting effect on Ybor City, serving as an anchor of nightlife and popular entertainment in the district.