Ruth Eckerd Hall has an Instagram wall.
It’s a mural of photographers by Seminole artist Stephen Palladino, painted from the perspective of a celebrity strutting down a red carpet. And it’s the splashiest swatch of color in Ruth Eckerd Hall’s gleaming new $12 million lobby.
When the curtain comes down this weekend after nearly 17 months of renovations, the paparazzi mural might be the first place iPhone-toting patrons will head for a selfie in the new space.
“Our VP was saying, ‘I want a wall.' I was saying, ‘Well, I’ve got the artist,’” said Susan Crockett, Ruth Eckerd Hall’s president and CEO. “One of our donors had some of his work, and we just like the look of what he does.”
The lobby officially opened to donors and VIPs Friday night with a cocktail reception and private concert by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The public will get its first good look at two concerts Saturday and Sunday.
Crockett gave the Times a tour on Wednesday as the venue was still putting up finishing touches.
Part of an ongoing $34 million capital campaign, the renovations represent the first major facelift in the history of the venue, built in the early 1980s by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Part of the challenge, Crockett said, was updating the famed architect’s hallmark aesthetics — low ceilings, horizontal lines — without sacrificing them completely.
“It’s Frank Lloyd Wright, but it’s a modernized version,” she said.
From the outside, patrons will see a new, illuminated Ruth Eckerd Hall sign as they pull up to the valet and drop-off circle, near an expanded box office with an overhang in case of bad weather.
The new lobby — designed by Steve Klar of Clearwater’s Klar and Klar Architects, with interior design by Clearwater’s Suzan Decker Ross — is an airy, high-ceiling space reminiscent of a mid-century air terminal, with flowing lines, buxom swoops and glass in every direction. Dangling overhead are an array of stylish light fixtures and acoustic baffles to help with the acoustics. There’s a small cabaret stage surrounded by lounge chairs and tables, plus a giant video board, 34 1/2 feet wide by 6 1/2 feet tall, spotlighting upcoming performances.
For Dress Circle members and donors, there’s a separate entrance and multi-level lounge with a stained-glass donor wall and floating marble staircase. On the second floor, the lounge has a porch-like area overlooking the new lobby.
Both areas have new, permanent bars that will serve light fare. Ruth Eckerd Hall is looking into a partnership with a local restaurant to operate the menu.
While there is some art on the walls, including Palladino’s murals and prints of jazz artists by Marsha Hammel in the Dress Circle lounge, some of the largest pieces are yet to come. There will be an outdoor glass sculpture and fountain by St. Petersburg’s Duncan McClellan in the drop-off/valet circle, and a metal sculpture by Largo’s Waylon Smith near the auditorium doors.
Details like these, Crockett said, are thought of as “memory points” — places like the paparazzi mural, where people will feel inclined to take photos and reminisce later.
“I love the idea that people can walk through and see something and go, ‘Ooh, that’s cool,’" she said.
Work on the hall will continue in the months and years to come. In 2020, they’ll start renovating the back side of the building, including its administrative offices and patio that for the past year has served as its main entrance. Crockett is planning a new standalone education center and, down the line, an overhaul of the main auditorium itself, including video screens and a new sound system.
And they’re still raising money to pay for it all. In fact, Crockett said, they’re still looking for a name sponsor for the new lobby itself. Picture it: You could watch a band perform on the Holt Family Stage in the Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton Cabaret Theatre in the Your Name Here Grand Lobby.
“That’s my biggest fear” about the renovations, Crockett said, “is that people think we’re done.”
RUTH ECKERD HALL
Get a look at the new lobby at two shows this weekend: Neil Berg’s Rock and Roll III, 8 p.m. Saturday ($39 and up); and the holograms of Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly, 7:30 p.m. Sunday ($43.25 and up). 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.