Playhouse Square

Playhouse Square emerged in 1921-22 with the opening of the State, Ohio, Allen, Palace, and Hanna theaters near the intersection of Euclid Avenue and East Fourteenth Street. The brainchild of Joseph Laronge, four of the five theaters were interconnected. The largest theater, the Palace, was built to host B. F. Keith's vaudeville performances. In addition to vaudeville, the theater district featured plays, motion pictures, and eventually Cinerama films. By the end of 1969, however, all of the theaters but the Hanna had closed due to declining attendance.

The Junior League of Cleveland was instrumental in saving the theaters from demolition in the 1970s, forming the Playhouse Square Foundation and working with Cuyahoga County commissioners to restore and reopen the theaters. By the turn of the twenty-first century, all of the original theaters were again hosting performances, constituting the nation's second largest performing arts complex after New York's Lincoln Center. In addition to ticket sales, the Playhouse Square Foundation now maintains an extensive real estate portfolio stretching from the theater district to the suburbs, which supports ongoing preservation of the historic properties themselves while contributing to broader economic development.

Images

Billboard Sign, 2014

Billboard Sign, 2014

In 2014, Playhouse Square Foundation debuted a number of exterior improvements intended to enhance the district's brand. These include LED signboards and news tickers, a rebuilt Star Plaza anchored by chef Zack Bruell's DynOmite Burgers, a large retro billboard sign in the manner of Seattle's Pike Place Market, and the world's largest outdoor chandelier, sponsored by General Electric Corporation. These enhancements refreshed a partially realized streetscape vision from the late 1980s. | Source: J. Mark Souther | Creator: J. Mark Souther View File Details Page

Keith Building, ca. 1922

Keith Building, ca. 1922

The B.F. Keith Vaudeville Building, home to the Palace Theater, ca. 1922. Vaudeville theater peaked in popularity during the 1920s. The advent of sound films led to the virtual extinction of the vaudeville form by the late 1930s. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Palace Theatre, 1929

Palace Theatre, 1929

In the first half of the twentieth century, Cleveland's downtown theaters entertained patrons from all over the region. Here, hundreds gather to see the film "Jazz Heaven." Note the banner on the marquee, which reads: "All Talking, All Musical." The era of silent films had ended only a couple years earlier, with the 1927 release of "The Jazz Singer." Movies with synced music and dialogue, known as talkies, remained a novelty throughout the early 1930s. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Playhouse Square, ca. 1940s

Playhouse Square, ca. 1940s

Playhouse Square remained a bright spot through World War II, but the rise of suburban theaters and especially television made inroads thereafter. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Cinerama at the Palace, 1958

Cinerama at the Palace, 1958

Cinerama, a process for showing motion pictures, debuted at the Palace Theater in 1956 and lasted until 1959. Intended to fend off growing competition from television, Cinerama used three projectors operating simultaneously to display movies onto an oversized, deeply-curved screen. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Playhouse Square, 1970

Playhouse Square, 1970

By 1970, a year after Playhouse Square's theaters closed, cinema marquees along Euclid Avenue were relegated to promoting films being shown at suburban theaters. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections | Creator: Scope Photographers View File Details Page

Lobby Performance, 1973

Lobby Performance, 1973

"Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" is shown being performed in the Lobby of the State Theater in 1973. This long-running hit is widely considered as the play that saved the theaters. | Source: Playhouse Square Foundation View File Details Page

Ohio Theater Renovation

Ohio Theater Renovation

The Ohio Theater reopened in July 1982 after undergoing a nearly $4 million renovation. | Source: Playhouse Square Foundation View File Details Page

Save the Allen, 1987

Save the Allen, 1987

Well after Ray Shepardson famously spearheaded a movement to preserve Playhouse Square, preservationists could not let down their guard. A woman protests the planned demolition of the historic Allen Theatre by wearing a sandwich board that urges supporters to join in a rally in December 1987. Eventually the Allen reopened in 1998 and, in 2011, became home to Cleveland Play House and Cleveland State University's theater program. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Palace Theater Marquee

Palace Theater Marquee

The restored Palace Theater marquee, ca. 1988 | Source: Playhouse Square Foundation View File Details Page

Audio

The Decline Of The Allen Theatre

John Hemsath of the Playhouse Square Foundation describes the decline of the Allen Theatre leading to its near demolition in the late 1980s View File Details Page

An Unexpected Baby

John Hemsath describes the purchase of the Hanna Building by Playhouse Square View File Details Page

Fruit Loops And Camouflage

John Hemsath speaks on the struggle of finding an appropriate paint scheme for the restored Ohio Theatre View File Details Page

The State Theatre Lobby

John Hemsath recalls the grandeur of the State Theatre Lobby View File Details Page

Video

Playhouse Square, Pt. 1

Ray Shepardson and "the show that saved the theaters" View File Details Page

Playhouse Square, Pt. 2

The Palace Theater View File Details Page

Playhouse Square, Pt. 3

The Palace Theater: Fifth City Vaudeville View File Details Page

Official Website:

http://playhousesquare.org

Cite this Page:

“Playhouse Square,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 5, 2015, http://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/61.

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