Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Hillsborough News

Need a giant glacier? An Eiffel Tower? Tampa prop master Tandova Ecenia is selling them off after 38 years

TAMPA — Tandova Ecenia has her choice of how to ride off into the sunset — dozens of pony-on-a-stick toys, a covered wagon, a 65-foot pirate ship replica.

“I have a little of everything,” Ecenia said with a laugh.

Not for long, though.

For 38 years, Ecenia has provided sets and props for Florida theater companies, movie and television productions, dance recitals and corporate events. But at 66, the woman known as Tandy to her friends has decided to retire and shut down her company, Tandova Inc.

Ecenia has an estimated 6,000 items stored inside her 5,000-square-foot warehouse, 18 trailers and four sheds, all on three acres along Armenia Avenue. in North Tampa.

It will all be sold in a series of auctions through tampaliquidationcenter.com.

Longtime clients are congratulating Ecenia on retirement, but they're also nervous they won’t be able to find a replacement.

“This is a huge loss,” said Sherry Silk, chief executive of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, whose annual Tuxes & Tails Fundraising Gala has featured items from Ecenia’s company for a decade.

The theme for this year’s Oct. 13 gala: wintery Nordic Nights.

“Where else would we have gotten a giant glacier?” Silk said. “I hope someone else can fill the void. Whatever we ask for, she’s always had.”

Need an 18-foot Eiffel Tower for a Paris-themed event? Ecenia has one stored alongside a 14-foot Statue of Liberty hand and torch. Nearby is a rubber puppet of Little Shop of Horrors’ giant baddie plant Audrey II.

Her company made all three items.

Ecenia also has a collection of life-sized Hollywood figurines her company bought some years ago, including Marilyn Monroe and the Blues Brothers. Phone booths and all manner of lamp posts are scattered across her storage center.

There is even a 2,000-square-foot shed just for storing the building columns her company has created.

“When the Bollywood Oscars were here, they used a lot of those,” Ecenia said, referring to the 2014 International Indian Film Academy awards.

When the 1990 film Edward Scissorhands was filmed in Lakeland, producers turned to Ecenia for props such as the paper doll chain fashioned by the Johnny Depp character.

She also worked on the 1993 film Carlito’s Way and 1997's Contact, both shot partly in Florida.

Among the most complicated sets her company built was a 108-by-24-foot replica of Mount Everest with a built-in avalanche option.

One of the stranger props was a bloody sheep leg.

“Wishing her all the best, as for the first time in her life, she is slowing down — something we don’t do much of in this industry,” said Keith Arsenault, theater manager at Hillsborough Community College. “She’s been a force in the local performing arts community for decades.”

Her mother Rita Ecenia sung with Les Brown and His Band of Renown and had a small role as a theater dancer in the movie Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.

During World War II, her father Paul Ecenia organized and performed in variety shows for the troops. He also received a purple heart,

Together, her parents opened Madeira Beach’s Bowery, a waterfront club where they also performed.

“They put me in dance when I was 3,” Ecenia said.

She was teaching dance at 14.

As a teen, working in shows at the old Tampa Community Theatre in Drew Park, Ecenia gravitated to the crew over the cast.

“There was an old magician Noel Lester who took me under his wing and showed me how to make cool scenery,” she said.

She left Tampa in the 1970s to perform in Houston and New York City and by the 1980s decided it was time to pursue her true passion.

“I had this need to work with my hands. I came back to Tampa and started my business.”

At its peak in the 1990s and early 2000s, Ecenia employed 18 people.

Over the last few years, her workforce dwindled to two.

“I’ve been slowly getting ready for this. It’s just time to retire. I’ll miss the people, but I’m ready.”

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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