The Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland Street is being renovated by Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Photo courtesy of the CITY OF CLEARWATER
The former Clearwater Evening Sun Building is next to the Capitol Theatre. The building is to be used by Ruth Eckerd Hall in conjunction with the theater.
CLEARWATER – In 2009, the Clearwater City Council granted historic designations to the Capitol Theatre and the adjacent Clearwater Evening Sun Building on Cleveland Street just east of Osceola Avenue so that their historic architecture would be protected from alterations. Now the council is being asked to revoke those designations, the first in the city and the only ones downtown, so that the two buildings can be united behind a shared façade.
“The Capitol Theatre opened in 1921 and was designed by Lester Avery and owned by John S. Taylor, son of one of the area’s earliest homesteaders,” according to a staff memo to the council. “The building is an excellent example of Mediterranean Revival style and is unique to Cleveland Street.”
It was designed for both movies and live entertainment and was the hub of Clearwater’s cultural and entertainment scene.
During World War II, it was a beehive of activity. Soldiers took their sweethearts to see a last movie before shipping out, Hollywood stars sold war bonds on the sidewalk near the door and Donald Roebling, inventor of the amphibious Alligator assault vehicle and grandson of Brooklyn Bridge builder Washington Roebling, permanently reserved a double-wide seat in the front row to accommodate his 400-pound frame.
When the theater last came on the market, the city bought it and contracted with Ruth Eckerd Hall, Inc., to run it. Later, the city bought the adjacent Clearwater Evening Sun Building for ancillary uses connected with the theater.
“The building was constructed in 1914 by Willis B. Powell and housed one of Clearwater’s first newspapers,” a city staff memo states. “It is a two-story structure with decorative brickwork and is an outstanding example of commercial Masonry Vernacular (architecture).”
The city and REH jointly requested the “historic” designation, but REH is alone in requesting its revocation.
REH wants to unite the two buildings behind a single Mediterranean Revival façade. But Gina Clayton of the city’s Planning and Development Department said that her department is opposed to that plan because it would hide the newspaper building’s unique brickwork under a layer of stucco.
“We think there is a lot of value that historic preservation can bring to our downtown,” Clayton said at the Sept. 18 Clearwater City Council work session.
But Councilmember Jay Polglaze disagreed, saying that a single facade would look better than a hodgepodge of styles.
“Let’s forget about the ‘historic’ designation that didn’t exist until we put it there,” Vice- Mayor Paul Gibson said.
Mayor George Cretekos was upset that the city hadn’t made REH aware of its opposition to the revocation earlier because a refusal would give the city an additional six months in which to consider another request for revocation. That might interfere with contracts that REH has pending with performers, Cretekos said. But City Manager Bill Horne said that the last-minute notification goes both ways, with REH submitting its latest drawings only two days earlier.
“It keeps changing,” Horne said of REH’s plan for the two buildings. “They have not submitted anything officially.”
The council was expected to make a decision at its Sept. 20 meeting.