Filed Under Entertainment

The Beck Center for the Arts

The Beck Center for the Arts is a non-profit organization that is "dedicated to enriching the quality of life for Northeastern Ohioans" through the performing arts and art education. The history of the Beck Center can be traced back to 1931 to a group of eighteen thespians known as the Guild of the Masques. They were led by the London-trained director Richard Kay. The Guild rehearsed in Lakewood living rooms and performed where ever they could such as schools or churches. In 1933, they leased an old blacksmith's shop where they tore down a wall, built a stage, and performed to sold-out crowds.

The same year, the Guild of the Masques was incorporated as a non-profit arts organization and officially became the Lakewood Little Theater. Tragedy struck in 1934 when the Lakewood Fire Department turned the fledgling company out of the blacksmith's shop due to code violations. So they took the show on the road once more. They became known for their radio dramas, in particular the story of the creation of the Red Cross by Clara Barton during the Civil War. The Little Theater charged no admission for their performances, which was greatly appreciated by those affected by the Depression.

The Lakewood Elks Club offered their facilities to the Little Theater due to their reputation of civic responsibility. However, the situation was less than ideal. Sets had to be built off site and carried by hand to the Elks Club in pieces. Local undertakers were asked to provide extra seats for the sold-out crowds. Patrons were routinely turned away due to lack of room. The Elks Club was the home the Lakewood Little Theater for three years, and ten productions a year were staged there, often receiving rave reviews.

In 1936, a group of dedicated Lakewood women decided to do something about the inadequate space of the Elks Club. They formed the Lakewood Little Theater Women's Committee and took over the fundraising efforts for the Little Theater. Not to be outdone, male Lakewood citizens formed the Lakewood Little Theater Men's Advisory Board with the intention of finding a permanent venue for the Little Theater. The Lucier Motion Picture Theater was leased with the eventual option to buy although it needed costly renovations. The men's and women's organizations set a $10,000 fundraising goal. The members of the Women's Committee opened their homes for floral themed tea parties, such as the Tulip Teas, and the press reported on what the ladies wore and where they vacationed.

On May 7, 1938 the Little Theater staged its first production, Fred Ballard's "Ladies of the Jury," in their new home to a sold out crowd of gentlemen in top hats and well-dressed ladies. In its first week the Little Theater drew 2,265 patrons. The press continued to love their productions, and the people kept coming. Even World War II didn't slow them down. In 1944, the lease on the Lucier was up, and the Little Theater purchased the building. The Lakewood Little Theater now had expanded its vision to include more space and provided theater education for the youth of the community.

In 1948, the Lakewood Little Theater School began led by actor Virginia Woodworth, called Woodbean by her students. One of the teachers she recruited was radio personality "Lady Jan" Egert. The purpose of the education programs Egert said, "was not on creating child stars. The objective was always to teach children to be more comfortable with the spoken word so that they could become better in school and in life. I was thrilled to be involved." Classes involved instruction of basic theater techniques, diction, and characterization. Students performed two plays a year which were often adaptations of fairy tale classics and other stories that would appeal to children. Lady Jan Egert even brought students to appear on her WJW radio show to perform. She stayed with the program until 1986.

In 1974, Kenneth Beck donated $300,000 to the Lakewood Little Theater, and later gave an additional $300,000. With additional fundraising from the public, construction of new facilities began. Beck was a retired partner in Beck & Wall the fifth largest manufacturer of advertising displays in the U.S. and millionaire. The Kenneth C. Beck Center was formally opened in 1976 with a black tie celebration. After a gourmet dinner, the 500 guests watched a production of Maxwell Anderson's "Mary Queen of Scotland." Kenneth Beck later said it was "the happiest day of his life." The Beck Center for the Arts was officially born.

Images

Side Angle View of Front Entrance, c. 1973 This angled shot of the front entrance gives a clear view of the marquis. The play being advertised is entitled "The Sound of Murder" by playwright William Fairchild. The story is about the murder of the very famous (and equally ego-centric) children's author, Charles Norbury. His spinster secretary knows who killed him. What will she do? Image Courtesy of the Lakewood Historical Society
Box Office Crew, 1940 These ladies worked in the box office of the Lakewood Little Theater in 1940. Shows were commonly sold out so there was plenty to keep them busy. Image Courtesy of the Lakewood Historical Society
Houses Purchased by Beck, c.1974 When Kenneth Back made his donation, the Lakewood Little Theater changed its name to the Beck Center for the Arts. In addition to the name change, the facilities were expanded. The Beck Center bought these houses in 1974 and demolished them to make way for the construction the Beck Center complex. These houses were on Rockway Avenue behind Salem's Food Market. Image Courtesy of the Lakewood Historical Society
Salem Food Market, c. 1970 The Salem Food Market was purchased by the Beck Center and was transformed into the current classroom building. The corner entrance in the center of the photo still exists. The Lakewood Little Theater was right next door (to the right of the Salem in the photograph). Salem's was located at 17764 Detroit Road on the corner of Rockway Avenue. Image Courtesy of the Lakewood Historical Society
Interior Atrium, 1976 The atrium of the Beck Center has been a gathering place for the members of the Beck since it was built. The style and architecture are typical of the 1970s, including the open slate staircase. Image Courtesy of the Lakewood Historical Society
Exterior, 1979 This is the exterior of the Kenneth C. Beck Center for the Cultural Arts at 17891 Detroit Avenue which houses the theater. This photo was taken from the north side of the street. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Front Entrance, c. 1973 This photograph of the front entrance of the Lakewood Little Theater was taken from across the street, circa 1973. The front doors and the marquis are on the left. This building was formerly the Lucier Motion Picture Theater. The play advertised on the marquee is "Miss Pell Is Missing" by Leonard Gershe. Miss Pell has been missing for six weeks and the police have given up because there is no evidence of a crime. Her brother and his daughter want to make sure she stays missing (she controlled the money) so they hire a notoriously unsuccessful private detective to "find her." Comedy ensues when the detective cracks his first case. Image Courtesy of the Lakewood Historical Society

Location

17801 Detroit Ave, Lakewood, OH 44107

Metadata

“The Beck Center for the Arts,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 19, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/227.