Filed Under Entertainment

Palace Theater

The Palace Theater at the B.F. Keith Building opened in 1922. Owner Edward Albee II (the grandfather of American playwright Edward Albee) named it for his late business partner B.F. Keith who had died in 1914.

Originally named Keith's Palace Theater, the building was designed to be the flagship of the Keith chain of Vaudeville theaters. At the time of completion the Keith Building was the tallest building in downtown Cleveland and represented the high point of development in Playhouse Square. The 3100-seat theater cost $3.5 million to open and was described as one of the most lavish in the land. The sign on top of the building was the largest electrical sign in the world, while the lobby housed a million-dollar art collection and the world's largest woven-in-one-piece carpet.

B.F. Keith was an American theater owner who helped evolve variety theater into vaudeville. The Palace Theater emulated this model. The theater held two vaudeville shows a day during its first four years. During its first year, the Palace Theater sold 1.7 million tickets. However, this trend did not last, as the motion picture era was beginning. By 1926, the twice daily performances were halted in favor of a combination of continuous live entertainment and motion pictures. In 1932, daily live shows were dropped entirely, with films becoming the main attraction. Throughout this time, however, the Palace Theater never forgot its roots. Despite the theater indulging in film, it still held periodic vaudeville performances well into the 1950s.

Many famous performers of the age were associated with the Palace Theater. Bob Hope began his career on the Palace stage. It also showcased Bing Crosby, Harry Houdini, Frank Sinatra and the Three Stooges. George Burns and Gracie Allen were married on the Palace Theater stage in 1926.

Through a combination of intensifying competition with suburban cinemas and television, the Palace's ticket sales dropped steadily throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Declining revenues and high real estate taxes increased the theater's financial burden, so when an air conditioning unit broke on July 20, 1969, rather than fix it, the theater closed. By the early 1970s, the Playhouse Square area had experienced considerable regression, and the attempts of civic and business groups to increase retail business and attract new commercial uses for the buildings failed. However, the Playhouse Square Foundation soon began a massive theater restoration effort that eventually included the Palace Theater.

In April 1982, the Palace dressing rooms were restored in a joint project by a series of local businesses. In total, the renovation project cost $36.4 million and took six years to complete. In 1988, the Palace Theater reopened completely restored but with approximately 400 seats less than it originally had. Today, the Palace Theater serves as a venue for every sort of performance from comedy shows to Broadway plays.

Audio

Fifth City Vaudeville John Hemsath talks about vaudeville at the Palace Theater and describes its lavish backstage amenities. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Palace Theater, 1997 The Playhouse Square Center on February 23, 1997 shows the marquees of the Palace, Ohio, and State Theaters, as well as the Playhouse Square Center's marquee. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Original Palace Theater Marquee The original Palace Theater marquee from December 1923 shows its focus on Vaudeville. Major vaudeville stars of the day performed at the Palace Theater and loved its amenities. Moe Howard, of the Three Stooges, said the Palace "theater was built without missing a thought for the actor's comfort...They had everything in them." Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Rainy Night, 1933 This is a view of Playhouse Square from the intersection of Huron Road and Euclid Boulevard, looking east during a wet evening on April 7, 1933. Visible in the photo are Loew's State Theater, the Allen Theater, Keith's Palace Theater, Hotel Euclid, and Hermitage Hotel.
Cinerama Ticket Stub Stanley Kramer's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World" was the premiere Cinerama show at the Palace Theater in 1963. Cinerama is the trademarked name for a widescreen process of projecting a movie from three projectors onto a curved screen. The first Cinerama film, "This is Cinerama," premiered in 1952 at the Broadway Theater in New York City. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Lobby Art Collection The Palace Theater was one of the most lavish theaters in the country at the time of its opening. These paintings were a part of the million-dollar art collection that sat in the lobby. The paintings, from left-to-right are "The Artist's Model" by Lillian Genth, "Landscape and Cattle" by Emile Van Marcke, and "Girl With The Garland" by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Marquee Shortly Before Closing The Palace Theater closed its doors on July 20, 1969 when its air conditioning unit broke down. Palace ownership decided against the costly repair and chose to close its doors. This photo, from July 2 of that year, shows the last movie to be shown in the theater before it closed down. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
1973 Palace Reopening The Palace Theater shut its doors in 1969. In 1973, the Playhouse Square Foundation decided to temporarily reopen the Palace and show cabaret performances there. This photo, taken on opening night, November 1973, shows a large crowd excited for what awaits. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

1615 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44115

Metadata

“Palace Theater,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 26, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/246.