The Capitol was believed to have been built in 1896, but upon research by Ruth Eckerd Hall, it was discovered the theatre was actually built in 1921. The reason for the mix up is because a different theatre in downtown, a few doors down from The Capitol, was built in 1896 but burned down, and the dates of the theatres got confused. However, The Capitol Theatre remains the second oldest theatre in the state of Florida.
In its 87 year history, The Capitol has been the proud host to celebrities including Elvis Presley, Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. To record this riveting history, Ruth Eckerd Hall has been playing with the idea of offering a blog in which citizens can write about the history of the theatre, and their memories.
The current plans for the new theatre are to restore the original look of the 1920’s theatre, but to update it here necessary. For instance, since people have become larger than they were in the 20’s, the theatre will become larger too. According to the current design plan, on the first floor, the lobby will be enlarged to make room for a modernized concession stand and more restroom space. The larger dressing rooms, offices, and possibly a donor room will be located on the second floor. The stage house will be rebuilt and the current stage extension jutting out past the proscenium arch will be taken out and replaced with an orchestra pit to accommodate musicals. The current 433 seats in the Royalty will become 655 seats in The Capitol. Ruth Eckerd Hall does not plan to create parking for the theatre, but might offer valet.
Architect Steve Fowler is working on the design for the new theatre, and he will be consulting with architect R.J. Heisenbottle, the historic preservation and restoration expert behind the restoration of the Belleview Biltmore and Robert Lorelli, one of the top theatre consultants in the country.
The whole project will cost an estimated $14.2 million, including the $2.4 million to buy the theatre and $6.8 million for construction. The design and construction of the project is estimated to take nine months, but will not begin until all the funds are in place. Along with the fundraising, Mr. Freedman estimates the theatre to be finished “two years from January,” but will not commit to a specific date. However, the Ruth Eckerd Hall was built ahead of schedule and under budget, and that is the same goal for the Capitol. Ruth Eckerd Hall also has the lowest operating cost of any major performing arts center in the state of Florida.
Mr. Freedman gave his thanks to Lisa Mansell, the Community Affairs Director for the Church of Scientology, for making the project possible. “If it wasn’t for Lisa Mansell, making phone calls, getting things back on track, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Possible programming for The Capitol Theatre includes the annual Jazz Holiday, a singer/songwriter series, classical music and dance presentations. Mr. Freedman also flirted with the idea of purchasing an old fashioned organ to accompany silent film screenings, similar to The Tampa Theatre. Ruth Eckerd Hall also plans to use the space as a vehicle to introduce up and coming artists to the community.
Ruth Eckerd Hall sealed the deal on December 9th, and the cleanup is currently in progress.
During the fundraising phase of the project, we can expect a few performances, but not until the cleanup is complete. When asked by Tampa Bay Informer reporters as to when performances could be expected, Mr. Freedman gave a cheeky smile, and with a twinkle in his eye, gave the date he could absolutely commit to, “Soon.”
- Tampa Bay Informer
The Good News Newspaper