Hippodrome

Eighteen months of planning and preparation preceded the opening of the massive Hippodrome Theater on December 31, 1907, with seating for 3,548 and the world's second largest stage. Architect John Eliot of Knox and Eliot designed the building to span the lot at 720 Euclid Avenue through to Prospect Avenue to the south. Ensconced in an eleven-story office building with theatre marquees and entrances on both streets, “The Hipp” was originally designed to host operas, plays, and vaudeville shows and prospered for two decades with a variety of live theater events. It hosted performances by the most famous performers of the early twentieth century, including Enrico Caruso, W. C. Fields, Will Rogers, Lillian Russel, John Phillip Sousa, and Al Jolson.

Modeled after the Hippodrome in New York, Cleveland’s version reflected developer Max Faetkenheuer’s dream of a theater that could house any size of production and staging. The central area in front of the stage held a pool which splashed the orchestra when horses paraded past. One backstage area was created that could dress up to 1,500 actors or be used for scenery staging. Faetkenheuer staged Aida with the Triumphant March to include elephants, horses, troops, and dancers. They continued circling onto and off the stage, “refreshed” by stage hands to look different for each circuit. The illusion supported the image of the largest theater to house so many animals and characters. Management evolved in 1912 when the B.F. Keith family of motion picture theaters leased the Hipp and managed it for the next decade of live theater operations.

The advent of projected film began to take popular hold during the 1920s, and the Hipp was primed to welcome and accommodate the new technology in 1922. Remodeling proceeded in 1931 with expanded seating for over 4,000 and an air-conditioning system utilizing water from Lake Erie. The Hipp became the nation's largest theater devoted exclusively to showing films and prospered for the next four decades, enjoying large movie crowds as Cleveland’s premier downtown movie house. The theater continued to show movies until the late 1970s, when declining attendance no longer supported the business.

The eleven-story office building to which the theater was attached became home to several tenants, including the longstanding street-level Green’s Jewelers, a haberdashery, and a shoe store. During its 73-year lifespan, the Hipp also was home to the Downtown Health Club and Danny Vegh’s Billiards and Table Tennis Center in the basement level between 1965 and 1980. The late 1960s brought increased challenges to maintain the building as tenants and visitors diminished. The Hippodrome closed all but its street-level operations by 1978. In 1979, a giant complex was proposed for the site to meet a perceived need for office space downtown. However, no tenants signed up and financing was not achieved. Similar to the campaign to rescue the theaters of Playhouse Square, the Cleveland Landmarks Commission was approached to initiate action to preserve the Hippodrome as an historic site, but the building’s condition was judged insufficient to warrant repair or restoration. In the summer of 1980, the Hippodrome fell to the wrecking ball to make way for a parking lot.

Images

Audio

The Theater in the 1960s
Jennifer Coleman recalls the unique features of the Hippodrome in the 1960s ~ Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
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The Best Acoustics In Town
John Bonebrake reflects on the great acoustics at the Hippodrome ~ Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
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Map

720 Euclid Avenue ~ Demolished