Q&A: Principal Architect Paul Westlake, Tampa Theatre restoration

Senior Principal Architect Paul Westlake of DLR Group (formerly of Westlake Reed Leskosky in Cleveland) is leading the restoration of Tampa Theatre in downtown Tampa. 

Westlake, an expert in historic restoration, has worked on a host of architecturally significant projects including the Phoenix Orpheum Theater, the Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre in the Denver Arts Complex, the fourth district Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, the Potter Stewart Federal Courthouse in Cincinnati, Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, M. K. Ferguson Plaza, Cleveland’s St. Stanislaus Church, numerous projects for Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Clinic, and cultural arts facilities throughout the United States.

Westlake is also working on a master plan to restore and expand the Straz Center for the Performing Arts along the Tampa Riverwalk in downtown.

83 Degrees asked Westlake to share his observations and insights on the Tampa Theatre restoration project. 

83 Degrees: What is your design philosophy?  

Paul Westlake: Respectful, accurate, historic preservation infused with modern infrastructure, engineered systems, technology and equipment.

83D: What impresses you the most about the design of Tampa Theatre? 
PW: Its innovation by original Architect John Eberson, creating an otherworldly environment alluring the patron to escape and be immersed in a place of fantasy.

83D: How does this theatre's design affect the theatre-going experience that is different from modern theaters?  

PW: The exuberant forms, textures and colors, and lighting, and the scale and detail of The Tampa Theatre surpass any modern theatre environments. John Eberson and his contemporaries were trained in the classicism of the exile des beaux arts, and the apogee of the late era of classicism, at the threshold of art deco, art nouveau, and art modern. Eberson drew stylistic inspiration from Northern Africa, Spain, Italy, France, and England. 

The architect's conception was implemented by skilled craftsmen -- painters, plasterers, sculptors, woodworkers, and other artisans and decorative artists, many of which were first generation immigrants from cultures of extraordinary craft in design and construction. This culture does not exist today to the extent and affordability of the era of Tampa Theatre's construction.

83D: If you could change anything in the design of this particular theatre, what would it be?

PW: A functional modern statehouse that would allow more diversity of programming and use.

83D: Was there an unexpected moment in the renovation process that impressed you / made you particularly happy? Please describe it.  

PW: The commitment to restore the audience chamber.

83D: What surprises came after renovation began? Anything you couldn't change despite your best intentions?  

PW: The structural issues of exterior wall -- inability to resist horizontal load of wind forces. Water infiltration and difficulty in inserting upgraded mechanical and electrical systems due to space constraints.

83D: If money were unlimited, what more would you recommend for the Theatre? 

PW: Buy the contiguous property and develop the additional screening studios to enhance revenue streams and engage more visitation.

83D: Is there another question you would like to answer?

PW: If I had it to do over again, I would have compressed the number of phases of renovation. There are too many small projects that would have been better to have bundled into larger packages for procurement.

More information about Westlake and his firm can be found on the DLR Group website.

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Read more articles by Diane Egner.

Diane Egner is an award-winning journalist with four decades of experience writing about the Tampa Bay region. She is a member of Leadership Florida and the Athena Society, and serves on the board of The Institute for Research in Art (Graphicstudio, the Contemporary Art Museum, and USF’s Public Art Program) Community Advisory Council and the StageWorks Theatre Advisory Council. A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism, she won the top statewide award for editorial writing from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors while at The Tampa Tribune and received special recognition by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists for creative work as Content Director at WUSF Public Broadcasting. Past accomplishments and community service include leadership positions with Awesome Tampa Bay, Arts Council of Hillsborough County, Alpha House of Tampa Bay, Florida Kinship Center, AIA Tampa Bay, Powerstories, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. She lives in South Tampa, is the mother of two adult daughters and grandmother to two amazing grandchildren, and travels whenever possible with laptop in tow.
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