Filed Under Entertainment

Cleveland Play House

From East Side Farmhouse to Playhouse Square Fixture

The story of the Cleveland Play House begins in 1915 with a series of meetings held at the home of essayist Charles Brooks. Charles and his wife Minerva Brooks met each week with eight of their friends to discuss theatre and the arts. Eventually, the well-to-do couple decided to form the Cleveland Play House, a professional theatre company that would offer performances of a more substantiative nature than the vaudeville and burlesque acts popular at the time. With Brooks as president, the company held its first show in May 1916 in an old farmhouse on land owned by industrialist Francis Drury, who lived across the street in his mansion at 8615 Euclid Avenue.

As attendance grew, the farmhouse became inadequate. In 1917 the Play House spent nearly $9,000 to purchase and renovate a Lutheran Church at East 73rd Street and Cedar Avenue that could seat 160 people. Audiences soon became too big for this space, too, and in 1926 the company moved back to the Drury estate. This time, Drury donated his land to the Play House and in place of the old farmhouse were two new interconnected theaters: the 522-seat Drury Theatre and the 160-seat Brooks Theatre. In 1949 the Play House also added a third theater in a converted Christian Science church on Euclid Avenue and East 77th Street. The Play House's continued success led to the 1983 opening of a new complex on East 86th Street at Carnegie Avenue. The complex, which comprised a former Sears store and a new building designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson, included the 550-seat Bolton Theater.

In 2009, after selling its East 86th Street complex to the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Play House announced it planned to move downtown. The move came just one year after the Great Lakes Theater Festival left its Lakewood home to take up residence in the Hanna Theatre. Cleveland Play House partnered with Cleveland State University to create a state-of-the-art complex for shared use in the revamped historic Allen Theatre.

Audio

The Cleveland Play House(s) Carol Hornick explains the multiple locations of the Cleveland Play House Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection 
Memories Of Margaret Hamilton Patricia Eversole (erroneously introduced as Patricia White) of Cleveland Play House remembers actress Margaret Hamilton who played the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Working In The Scene Shop Elijah Ford recalls the scene shop at Cleveland Play House Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Post-Show Nightlife On Euclid Avenue Elijah Ford of the Cleveland Play House remembers nearby actor hang outs Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Expansion In The 1980s Patricia Eversole (erroneously introduced as Patricia White) explains the decision to expand the Cleveland Play House Facility in 1983 Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
From Cleveland To Broadway Dean Gladden speaks about premieres at the Cleveland Play House which went on to Broadway Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

CPH and CSU Join in the Allen Theatre Following a 2011 renovation that reduced its seating from 2,500 to 514, the Allen Theatre became the performance home for Cleveland Play House and the Cleveland State University Department of Theatre. The complex also includes the 300-seat Outcalt Theatre and 100-seat Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre. The institutional partnership that created the new facility has been hailed as a key component in the ongoing revitalization of Playhouse Square, a district that has made remarkable strides since its theaters went dark in the late 1960s and faced possible demolition. Source: Ohio Development Services Agency
"Bright Ideas," 2002 Local playwright Eric Coble's "Bright Ideas" premiered at the Play House during its 2002-2003 season. Source: Cleveland Play House Archives
Rehearsal, 1921 A rehearsal at the Cleveland Play House's Cedar Avenue Theatre in 1921. The company's shows were held in this converted Lutheran church at Cedar Avenue and East 73rd Street from 1917 to 1927. Source: Cleveland Play House Archives
Margaret Hamilton On Stage, 1978 Margaret Hamilton appeared in "Night Must Fall" in 1978-79 with James Richards at the Cleveland Play House. Source: Cleveland Play House Archives
Margaret Hamilton, 1928 Actress Margaret Hamilton was born in Cleveland in 1902 and first performed at the Cleveland Play House from 1927 to 1930. She is most famous for her film role as the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939's "The Wizard of Oz." Source: Cleveland Play House Archives
Early Cleveland Play House, 1926 In 1917, this Lutheran church at Cedar Avenue and East 73rd Street became the home of the Cleveland Play House. The final show held there - George Bernard Shaw's "Arms And The Man" - took place on April 4, 1927. The company opened its new facility at 8500 Euclid Avenue five days later. Source: Cleveland Play House Archives
Shop Technicians, 1971 Master carpenter Ben Letter is pictured in the back row, at center. Source: Cleveland Play House Archives
Students Leaving Play House, 1937 The students had just finished watching William Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors." Source: Cleveland Play House Archives
Cleveland Play House, 1927 The Play House opened two new theaters in 1927: the 522-seat Drury Theater and the 160-seat Brooks Theater. These were part of a complex built on farmland donated by industrialist Francis Drury at East 86th Street between Euclid and Carnegie Avenues. Source: Cleveland Play House Archives
The 77th Street Theatre The Play House purchased this former Christian Science church at Euclid Avenue and East 77th Street and reopened it in 1949 as the 77th Street Theatre. Shows were held there until 1983. Source: Cleveland Memory Project (Identifier: cleveplayarchive036.jpg), Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Cleveland Play House, 1983 Philip Johnson designed CPH's new "theater village," which opened adjacent to the theater company's newly acquired former Sears store at Carnegie and East 86th Street in 1983. CPH later leased space in the old Sears building to the Museum of Contemporary Art until the museum built its own facility in University Circle in 2013. Source: Cleveland Memory Project (Identifier: cleveplayarchive054.jpg), Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

1407 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115

Metadata

“Cleveland Play House,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 28, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/6.