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Hidden war memorial uncovered during renovation of historic Clearwater theater

CLEARWATER

For nearly a century, the names of the heroes were hidden beneath a layer of white plaster.

Until this week, when workers renovating the historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater uncovered what was apparently a hand-painted memorial to local World War I soldiers on an interior wall.

"We've unearthed a time capsule," said Jeffrey Hartzog, director of operations at Ruth Eckerd Hall, which manages the Capitol Theatre for the city of Clearwater. "It was a surprise, but a good surprise. This is the kind of thing you hope to find."

Hartzog believes the memorial is about 12 feet tall and 30 feet wide, but only "J" through "Z" names have been exposed so far. "OF HONOR," a title fragment, is scrawled in black on the brick wall.

Now, architects and officials wonder: Should we tear it down? Keep the bricks? Create a new memorial?

The Capitol Theatre was built in 1924, Hartzog said, and shared a wall with the old Clearwater Evening Sun building. The local landmarks sat on Cleveland Street in the heart of downtown Clearwater — an ideal spot for a veterans memorial.

The $7 million expansion and renovation of the Capitol, which included demolition of the Sun building, started about four months ago. The comedian Gallagher performed the last show in the old theater on March 24.

Construction workers didn't notice the World War I tribute until Monday, on the inside of the western wall of the theater, smack in the middle of the planned new lobby.

"There's no question. We have to take the wall down," Hartzog said. "But we're looking for a way to preserve it, or at least a part of it. This is our history."

A close look at the memorial reveals pioneering Clearwater names, including "McMullen," which appears at least twice. Bill Wallace, a past president of the Clearwater Historical Society, found his uncle's name on the wall.

"He was born in 1894," Wallace said, "and was much older than my father."

Wallace, like Hartzog, hopes to see the wall preserved somewhere in Clearwater — perhaps, he said, beneath a sheet of glass in City Hall or near the Capitol Theatre.

He believes the names of as many as 100 soldiers might have been memorialized there before someone covered them up for construction of a theater gift shop and bathroom.

Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224.

Hidden war memorial uncovered during renovation of historic Clearwater theater 04/10/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 9:45am]
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