Filed Under Architecture

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 developed an extensive real estate portfolio stretching from the theater district to the suburbs, which supported ongoing preservation of the historic properties themselves while contributing to broader economic development.

In recent years Playhouse Square Foundation added dramatic arches at three major approaches to the district, along with LED sign boards and the centerpiece GE Chandelier at Euclid and East 14th. The Foundation also funded a 34-story apartment tower, the Lumen, just east of the Hanna Building.

Video

Fifth City Vaudeville John Hemsath describes the history of vaudeville in Playhouse Square and the amenities for performers at the Palace Theater. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
The Palace Theater Clevelanders recount their memories of the Palace Theater. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Ray Shepardson and "the show that saved the theaters" Thomas Rathburn describes how Ray Shepardson and the hit show, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, helped to save Cleveland's theaters. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities

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 Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
An Unexpected Baby John Hemsath describes the purchase of the Hanna Building by Playhouse Square Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Fruit Loops and Camouflage John Hemsath speaks on the struggle of finding an appropriate paint scheme for the restored Ohio Theatre Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The State Theatre Lobby John Hemsath recalls the grandeur of the State Theatre Lobby Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

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 Date: November 10, 2014
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 State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
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
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 into its popularity thereafter. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Cinerama at the Palace, 1958 Cinerama was featured at the Palace Theater throughout the 1950s and 60s. 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
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 Date: July 7, 1970
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
Ohio Theater Renovation The Ohio Theater reopened in July 1982 after undergoing a nearly $4 million renovation. Source: Playhouse Square Foundation
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
Palace Theater Marquee The restored Palace Theater marquee, ca. 1988 Source: Playhouse Square Foundation

Location

1501 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44115 | The grand lobbies of the theaters on the north side of Euclid Ave are mostly accessible from multiple entrances and are interconnected. One is free to enjoy what is visible along the corridor that connects the lobbies. Playhouse Square Foundation also offers guided backstage tours. For more information, visit www.playhousesquare.org/tours.

Metadata

“Playhouse Square,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 13, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/61.