Make us your home page

Woman's $1 million gift will help restore Clearwater's old Capitol Theatre

CLEARWATER— Geri Trautlein met her future husband Ray when she was 14. For seven decades, they danced, joked and traveled the world together.

"I had such an exciting life with him," she said. "We lived dancing."

But there was one thing Ray wanted and never got before he died in 2009 at 84.

On Wednesday, she gave it to him.

Trautlein donated $1 million to the project to restore the 92-year-old Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater — the largest single gift so far to the restoration of the city-owned theater, which is managed by Ruth Eckerd Hall.

The value of Trautlein's donation "cannot be measured," Ruth Eckerd Hall officials said Wednesday in a news release.

Her gift helps Ruth Eckerd meet its obligation to the city to provide a multimillion dollar endowment and contingency fund for the project, for which the city has budgeted more than $7 million.

More importantly, it allows the organization to provide "an anchor for the comeback of downtown Clearwater," said Zev Buffman, president and CEO of Ruth Eckerd Hall Inc.

The Trautleins "have a long emotional history with the Capitol Theatre," Buffman said.

In an interview, Trautlein said she knew her gift was something her late husband would appreciate. After the couple moved to the Island Estates neighborhood near Clearwater Beach in 1972, Ray often would comment about a building on the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue, adjacent to the theater. Ray, who founded LEM Products, a manufacturer of labeling products for industry, would try to talk himself into buying it.

"He always wanted that building," said Trautlein, 86.

One day, Trautlein, who modeled dresses for local women's clothier Pat Lokey, told him her boss beat him to it: Lokey bought the building and made it her signature boutique.

The Lokey building was demolished for the expansion of the Capitol, which will be transformed from a run-down remnant to a 750-seat venue for national acts. Trautlein's gift is a third of the $3 million donated so far.

Opened in 1921 as a vaudeville venue and movie house, the Capitol, one of the oldest theaters in Florida, eventually fell on hard times. It later was renamed the Royalty Theatre, but major acts were few and far between.

The city bought the theater in 2008 and turned over its operations to Ruth Eckerd Hall, which brought in national acts like punk-rocker Henry Rollins, comedian Steven Wright and singer Richard Marx. Based on that success, the restoration and expansion were launched. The theater closed in March and is scheduled to reopen in mid December.

Trautlein, a lifelong dancer, served on the board of the Royalty Theatre. She also danced on its stage in a 1983 production of Sweet Charity.

"I loved that show. And I had so much fun. I always said if I died on the dance floor, I'd be happy," she said.

The couple never had children. Trautlein's accountant recently suggested that she think about making charitable donations.

That made sense to Trautlein. Her philosophy: "Giving while I'm living so I'm knowing where it's going."

A light bulb went off as Trautlein drove by that familiar corner now ringing with the sounds of construction.

"Oh, Raymond, there's your building," she thought.

When she first walks through the doors of the Capitol and sees the new lobby and VIP lounge that will be named in their honor, Trautlein said her eyes will fill with "happy tears."

And with memories of the boy who took her to her first show — a production of Tobacco Road — back in Buffalo, N.Y., when she was in high school.

"I just hope he knows what's going on," she said. "It's give-back time."

Charlie Frago can be reached at or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.

Woman's $1 million gift will help restore Clearwater's old Capitol Theatre 07/18/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 12:14am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus


    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.

  3. Boho Hunter will target fashions in Hyde Park


    Boho Hunter, a boutique based in Miami's Wynwood District, will expand into Tampa with its very first franchise.

    Palma Canaria bags will be among the featured items at Boho Hunter when it opens in October. Photo courtesy of Boho Hunter.
  4. Gallery now bringing useful art to Hyde Park customers


    HYDE PARK — In 1998, Mike and Sue Shapiro opened a gallery in St. Petersburg along Central Ave., with a majority of the space dedicated to Sue's clay studio.

     As Sue Shapiro continued to work on her pottery in St. Petersburg, her retail space grew and her studio shrunk. Now Shapiro's is bringing wares like these to Hyde Park Village. Photo courtesy of Shapiro's.
  5. Appointments at Raymond James Bank and Saint Leo University highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers



    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. Jackson will oversee all of Raymond James Bank's operational business elements, risk management and strategic planning functions. Kackson joins Raymond James Bank after senior …

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. [Company handout]