In November 1977, June Baumgardner Gelbart donated a 38-acre parcel of land to the City of Clearwater. This memorial gift, given in honor of Richard B. Baumgardner, Sr., included the stipulation that the land by used for a performing arts center. The prestigious Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation designed and directed the building of Ruth Eckerd Hall for a total cost of $14.5 million. In December 1979, the official groundbreaking ceremonies were held for what would be Ruth Eckerd Hall at the Richard B. Baumgardner Center for the Performing Arts. Ruth Eckerd Hall was dedicated on October 15, 1983 and the first official performance featured the Suzuki Children of Japan.
In May 2003, a renovation and expansion of Ruth Eckerd Hall began that included a renovated backstage, Dress Circle, lobby and auditorium spaces with new patina colored seats, carpet and curtain, the Dimmitt Family Atrium Lounge and the renovated Grand Concourse. The project was completed in February 2004.
In May 2004, Jack Eckerd, one of the founders of the Hall, businessman and philanthropist, passed away. In July 2006, Ruth Eckerd, namesake and one of the founders of the Hall, passed away.
In 2015, the first phase of the $19 million Expanding the Experience renovation began which included the Murray Theatre and the recreation of the 350-person capacity Margarete Heye Great Room and new commercial kitchen. In 2017, the next phase of construction began with the physical and aesthetic improvements to the roadway leading from McMullen Booth Road to Ruth Eckerd Hall and changes to the main parking lot. Two lanes were added to the roadway approach to expedite guests’ arrival and departure.
In 2019, Ruth Eckerd Hall completed the renovation, which included a stunning three story floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding the new 6,000 square foot Grand Lobby, which is home to the Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton Cabaret Theatre. Guests can enjoy enhanced food and beverage service, stunning décor, including additional seating, custom acoustical and lighting features and a 34-foot, 5-inch wide x 6-foot, 5-inch tall video wall. The members-only Hoffman Family Dress Circle Lounge was doubled in size, giving members a spectacular view and additional comfort, adjacent to the new Grand Lobby. In December 2021, The England Family Music Garden, a newly reimagined outdoor performance space located at Ruth Eckerd Hall’s east entrance, where guests can enjoy amenities prior to ticketed events opened.
During its forty-year history, Ruth Eckerd Hall has presented more than 3,500 performances and events. Since 2005, Ruth Eckerd Hall has been consistently ranked a top five venue in the world of theatre venues of 2,500 seats or less by industry trade publication POLLSTAR. In 2002, 2008 and 2021, Ruth Eckerd Hall was nominated by Pollstar for Theatre of the Year. In 2022, Bobby Rossi, EVP & Chief Programming Officer was nominated Small Venue (under 10,000 capacity) Talent Buyer of the Year and Ruth Eckerd Hall’s In-House Catering Department was nominated for Best Backstage Catering For A Tour This Year. In 2020 and 2021, Ruth Eckerd Hall was nominated by the Academy of Country Music for Theatre of the Year. In 2021, industry trade publication, VenuesNow, named Ruth Eckerd Hall the recipient of the 2021 All-Stars Award - Theater and Performing Arts Center. In 2022, IEBA (International Entertainment Buyers Association), the leading not-for-profit trade organization for live entertainment industry professionals, nominated Ruth Eckerd Hall for Theatre of the Year.