CLEARWATER, FL – The Capitol Theatre in Clearwater is celebrating its centennial this year on March 21. The Tampa Bay Times (TBT) featured the theatre’s colorful history, including its Greek connection, in an article published on March 16.
From presenting vaudeville acts and silent films in the 1920s, the Capitol Theatre functioned primarily as a movie theatre into the 1980s when it leased by several different companies, including the Royalty Theater Company and the Clearwater Symphony Orchestra, according to the theatre’s website
In 1996, Greek-American Socrates Charos, a local businessman purchased the Capitol Theatre for $250,000, TBT reported, noting that Charos “kept it a community theater, added opera and a museum, brought back silent movies and renovated the interior with a Greek Orthodox twist.”
“Newspapers reported that he decorated it with religious signs and statues of angels,” TBT reported, adding that Charos “claimed that Jesus once appeared on center stage.”
“The theater was in shambles” in 1996, according to a letter to the editor published in the St. Petersburg Times in 2008, TBT reported, noting that “it was full of rats, mice and vermin. Socrates Charos had the foresight to take those shambles and turn them into a beautiful place to enjoy music and shows.”
Unfortunately, “Charos lost the theater to foreclosure that same year ,” TBT reported.
According to the theatre’s website, “the Capitol Theatre faced troubling times in late 2008, when it faced foreclosure and was very close to closing its doors for good. The saving grace was when Ruth Eckerd Hall and The City of Clearwater came together in a partnership and purchased the building.”
“In March 2013, the theatre closed for a major $10.7 million renovation, which resulted in expanded seating to 750, including six private lodge boxes, multiple concession stands, a larger lobby, an outdoor balcony wrapping around the building overlooking the beautiful Clearwater causeway, a VIP lounge, Frenchy’s rooftop terrace, ADA accessibility and an uncovered Panel of Honor from World War I with the names of Clearwater citizens who served in the war which is visible in the lobby and mezzanine areas,” the theatre’s website notes.
After a 2019 donation of $2.5 million from benefactors Nancy and David Bilheimer, their names were added to the Capitol’s moniker, so it is now officially known as the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre.
CEO Susan Crockett told TBT that throughout the 100-year history of the venue, “one thing that has been constant is that this has been a community place. She continued, “we hear a lot of stories from people about how their grandparents were on dates here. Then they came here for dates, too. It’s just been this important part of the community for a century,” TBT reported.
The historic theatre also reminds visitors of how things used to be, exhibiting in its lobby “a pair of theater seats from its opening year,” TBT reported, adding that “there were originally nearly 1,000 [seats]” and “today, the theater’s capacity is 750 for events such as comedy shows and concerts.”
“Of course there are ghosts,” Crockett told TBT. “A little girl used to appear in the exterior lobby. She was waiting for someone to come get her.”
Of Charos, Crockett told TBT, “He was a character… He was an ordained minister and a ballroom dancing champion.”
In 1981, there was also a murder at the theatre when Bill Neville who had a few years earlier leased the theatre to show silent movies, TBT reported, adding that Neville “no longer associated with the theater – was found beaten and stabbed in the balcony section.”
“News archives reported that Neville met two men at a nearby bar and let them into the theater with a key he never returned,” TBT reported, noting that “the men were convicted of first-degree murder, according to news archives.”
More information about the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre is available online: https://www.rutheckerdhall.com.