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Thefts can't stop the show at theater

Despite the loss of audio equipment and other items, the owners of the old Capitol Theater still plan to open in June.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000

CLEARWATER -- Thieves broke into the old Capitol Theater recently, taking $10,000 worth of audio equipment new owners need to get the place ready to open.

Also missing is a briefcase belonging to Socrates Charos, who, along with his wife, Dru, and business partner Rena Brenner, paid $250,000 for the historic theater nearly a year ago.

"If only I could recover the briefcase," Charos said. "It had all my papers, some old pictures and the original design of the theater inside."

Charos, who joins volunteers and a few paid employees every day to clean, paint and wipe away cobwebs, discovered the burglary the morning of April 25.

"I was looking for my briefcase," he said. "When I couldn't find it, I decided to close the doors and ask everybody to look around."

That is when he discovered the back door had been broken and the audio equipment, including amplifiers, CD decks and equalizers, was missing. Clearwater police fingerprinted the place but so far have not recovered the stolen items.

Charos, who has gone into debt to the tune of $300,000 to refurbish the theater, says he has no money to replace the equipment.

"Everything costs so much," he said Wednesday afternoon. "Work on the lobby alone cost $53,000," he said.

People wandering Cleveland Street frequently walk through the theater's open doors while the restoration work is in progress.

Wednesday afternoon, Michael Plunkett, who grew up in Clearwater, dropped by on his way to the Clearwater Library. Plunkett has lived in California for the past 25 years, but keeps a house in Clearwater.

"I was here 51 years ago," Plunkett said. "I was a 9-year-old kid here to see a movie on a Saturday afternoon. It cost me 9 cents. I remember when they raised the price to 14 cents."

Plunkett told Charos he liked the new look.

The theater, which dates to at least 1920, probably has never looked so elegant. The ceiling has a fresh coat of gold paint. The walls are white with red-and-gold trim. A plush, red velvet curtain adorns the stage, which has a new floor of light pine. Ornate, gold mirrors and artwork with elaborate frames are on all the walls.

Downstairs, the theater seats, which recline, are covered in a deep-blue fabric. And there is a new lighting system ready for the first stage performance.

To help pay to replace the audio equipment, Charos has scheduled three benefit performances this month. Saturday night at 6 p.m., there is a tribute to the stars presented by the Fred Astaire Dance Studio. Tickets are $20 at the door. At 8 p.m. May 13, a real bash has been scheduled: local talent Buddy Verde and his 12-piece orchestra playing numbers from the Big Band era. Seats range from $15 to $25.

There is a Prince and Princess Ball with a roaring '20s theme on June 9, and the official grand opening, called the Royalty Gala, at 8 p.m. June 10. Guests are to come in formal attire, Charos said. Tickets are $80 and $50.

The theater still is unnamed. Charos has not decided whether he will go with The Capitol or The Royalty. The building has been called both.

But its subtitle definitely will be "the theater of the angels." Sometime after Charos purchased it, he learned of mysterious spirits that supposedly had occupied the place over the years.

A Greek Orthodox priest, a friend of Charos, conducted a ceremony on a makeshift altar in the theater that Charos believes helped rid the theater of the spirits.

"Now only angels live here," Charos said. He believes he recently captured an angel in a photo he took of the theater's stage. In the photo, there is a wispy figure left of center stage. When he comes to work in the morning, there is often the sweet aroma of maple syrup or apple pie, he said.

"If there ever was an evil spirit, it wouldn't stay here now," he said.

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