Filed Under Entertainment

Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre was founded in 1982 by Cleveland native James Levin. From its early years, CPT was instrumental in promoting, creating, and providing a home for experimental theater in the Cleveland area. Initially sparking interest in local theater through productions such as Shakespeare at the Zoo and the New Plays Festival, the focus of CPT gravitated toward the latter by the late 1980's. Over the next decade, the theater would make a name for itself both within and outside of Cleveland as a stage for original works by contemporary artists.

Ingrained into the mission of the theater is the belief that art can not only change individual lives, but that the theater can be a means to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood. Beyond providing a space and forum for local artists to perform and display their work, CPT developed urban outreach programs that provide educational services to at-risk youth and homeless adults. In addition, the success of Cleveland Public Theatre helped set the stage for the transformation of the surrounding neighborhood into an emerging arts district. Working in collaboration with other community organizations, Cleveland Public Theater has played a key role in promoting the commercial and economic development of what is now the Gordon Square Arts District.

Images

A Renovated Cleveland Public Theatre The Cleveland Public Theatre moved into the upper story of 6415 Detroit Avenue in 1984. James Levin, who had graduated from Case Western Reserve Law School, traded his services as a lawyer with a motorcycle gang for renovations of the space. In 1994, the Cleveland Public Theatre completed its first successful fund raising campaign and purchased the building. The first floor, previously occupied by a used appliance store, was transformed into administrative offices, a scene shop, and a black box theater. Photograph courtesy of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization
Renovated Gordon Square Theater Cleveland Public Theatre purchased the neighboring building at 6405 Detroit Avenue in 1995; the structure had previously housed Gordon Square Theatre. Constructed in 1912, this building is Cleveland's oldest standing theater. Gordon Square Theatre specialized in vaudeville acts and remained a popular venue in the Gordon Square area until the popularization of motion pictures in the early 1920s. Already struggling to recover from the death of vaudeville, the economic strains brought on by the Great Depression led to its closure. At the time of its purchase by the Cleveland Public Theatre, the historic building had been condemned by the City of Cleveland. Photograph courtesy of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organzation
Looking East Along Detroit Avenue From West 65th Street, 1934 The intersection of Detroit Avenue and West 65th Street is the historic commercial and social center of what is now the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. The surrounding neighborhood was spatially segregated by ethnicity, primarily dominated by enclaves of Italians, Romanians, and the Irish. Streetcars provided transportation into and out of Cleveland's downtown, but the majority of workers in the neighborhood were able to walk to their jobs at the many manufacturing plants and stores within the neighborhood. Photograph courtesy of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization
Cleveland Public Theatre, c.1990 What is now Cleveland Public Theatre's "James Levin Theatre" at 6415 Detroit Avenue had long been used as both a commercial and recreational space. As early as 1917, the upstairs theater-space was occupied by the O'Loughlin Dancing Academy. The Academy offered instructions in ballroom dancing and ballet. Courses in dances suitable for May Day and outdoor events were also offered to public school teachers. By the 1930s, 6415 Detroit Avenue was known as the "Irish American Hall". This rented hall was a popular space for Cleveland's Irish community to hold dances, social club meetings, and special events. By mid century, the location was referred to as the "Balcony Bar", and was a notorious after-hours gambling hot spot. The lower level had originally been occupied by the Gordon Square Auto Co./The Motor Service Co., an automobile dealer. The space was later used as an envelope factory, an auto repair shop, and a used appliance store. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection
St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Church In 2003, James Levin purchased three buildings on the former site of St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Church in order to both preserve the historic structures and expand the Cleveland Public Theatre complex. The de-sanctified church, parish hall, and parsonage were leased to CPT by Levin until 2010, at which point the theater could afford to buy the structures. Funding from the Gordon Square Arts District helped make the purchase possible. Representing Cleveland Public Theatre, the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, and Near West Theatre, this collaborative organization focused on raising revenue to promote the development of the Gordon Square area as an arts center. The parish hall and church were envisioned by Levin to provide additional space for music and theater performances, as well as classrooms for education and urban outreach programs. Photograph courtesy of Saint Mary Romanian Orthodox Cathedral

Location

6415 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, OH 44102

Metadata

Richard Raponi, “Cleveland Public Theatre,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 26, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/181.