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World War I ‘Wall of Honor’ Discovered Under Capitol Theatre Plaster

As crews work to renovate the Capitol Theatre they discovered a nearly 20-foot-tall, painted “Wall of Honor” listing names most likely compiled from Clearwater servicemen during World War I.

The names appear clearly enough through the nearly 100-year-old paint.

Rudolph Petree. Newlan C. PlumbGrover and Aubrey McMullenJohn B. Stetson.

The powerful and pioneering family names appeared as the plaster was removed inside the Capitol Theatre this week, revealing a "Wall of Honor" listing names of residents who served in various military branches during World War I, according to Clearwater historians.

“This was completely unexpected,” said Katie Pedretty, spokeswoman at Ruth Eckerd Hall, who is undertaking the renovation project of the more than 90-year-old theater in partnership with the city.

The discovery Tuesday has planners scrambling to figure out a way to preserve and incorporate the nearly 20-foot-tall wall into restoration plans.

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The Capitol Theatre closed in March so work could begin to restore its Mediterranean Revival look and expand its space. It will feature seating for 655, a rooftop terrace and wraparound balcony when it reopens in the fall.

The Lokey building, which was one of the city’s oldest structures, was demolished as part of the plans to expand, renovate and rehabilitate the space. 

The 1914 structure was originally going to be part of the Capitol's renovation. Officials decided the building wasn't sturdy enough for the expansion, so city leaders removed its historic designation in order for it to be destroyed.

The more recent name comes from a local businesswoman who owned a high-end women's clothing shop there through the 1990s.

Before that, it was home to the Clearwater Evening Sun newspaper.

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The carefully stenciled, alphabetized list of names was uncovered inside one of the state's oldest movie theaters.

The names, protected in plaster for 90 years, are, for the most part, legible because they were covered for so long. 

Although not fully revealed, there are several rows of alphabetized names under what appear to be the words "Wall of Honor." Right now only J through Z can be seen. The names belong to residents who served in various military branches during World War I, according to military service cards in state records and Bill Wallace, a past president of the Clearwater Historical Society.

The list could even feature names of servicemen from the Spanish American War, he said.

If that is the case, the names likely would have been written after the Great War’s end in 1918 and covered up a few years later when the Capitol Theatre was originally built and opened in 1921.

Before the Capitol Theatre was built, the open-air space featured a band stage, essentially a public gathering spot, according to the Sanborn Map Company fire insurance maps from 1917. The maps show details of development and potential fire hazards.

The wall was the exterior of the Clearwater Evening Sun newspaper building, which was built in 1914 on the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue.

The list of names would have appeared prominently near what was essentially the town square, a practice common during the early 20th century, Wallace said. 

“It would make sense,” said Wallace, who also noted his uncle Floyd Wallace’s name is on the wall. “I don’t know how it would fit into their plans. ... It would be interesting to plexi-glass over it and leave that wall."

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City officials are not sure how, but they are working on a way to be able to preserve the nearly 100-year-old memorial.

“It looks like we may be able to salvage the wall,” said Felicia Leonard, who works with the city. 

It could take some time to determine how the wall can be preserved, she said.

“We’re hoping to preserve it in any way that we can,” Leonard said. “It’s important to recognize the history of the site and it’s important to preserve these things as they come up.”

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Ronald Joseph Kule April 10, 2013 at 06:42 PM
An exciting archaeological find of this nature is always a remarkable discovery. For Clearwater residents, the names add special, important significance to the city's increasingly vibrant history and current activities undertaken at the Capitol Theater with an eye to an even brighter future.
Bruce's Movies April 11, 2013 at 11:01 AM
This is just ONE MORE perfect example of WHY much more care and thought must be given by zoning boards and landmark commissions BEFORE allowing movie palaces and historic theatres across the country to be demolished. While it's EASY to tear them down and replace them with new (and usually ugly) high-rise buildings, once demolished, they can NEVER be replaced, even for money.
Robin Macar April 11, 2013 at 04:08 PM
What an amazing find! it makes you wonder how many more historic gems are hidden in our community. Kudos to Ruth Eckerd Hall and the City for seeking to preserve this piece of local history.
Christine Petellat April 13, 2013 at 05:36 PM
What should someone do if they feel that one of the names is part of their family tree?
Jo-Ann Leake April 16, 2013 at 08:07 PM
I wonder what would compel someone or something - a company, town planners, etc - to consent to covering this up in the first place? I agree with previous commentary that it is essential to carefully address historic buildings BEFORE razing them in the name of progress.

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