Filed Under Entertainment

Hippodrome

Once Downtown's Premier Cinema House

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. In 2023, a 23-story tower called City Club Apartments replaced the surface lot.

Audio

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

Images

Marquee Months Before Demolition
Marquee Months Before Demolition This photo was taken just months before the Hippodrome was demolished. At the time, the theater touted a double feature of horror films. Note the mentions of "Billiards." In its last fifteen years, the Hippodrome's basement was home to Danny Vegh’s Billiards and Table Tennis Center. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Frank Reed Date: February 28, 1980
Marquee, 1969
Marquee, 1969 The Hippodrome transitioned into a successful movie house in the 1930s, becoming the largest theater in the world dedicated solely to motion pictures, with a seating capacity of over 4,000. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: ca. 1969
The Hippodrome Building
The Hippodrome Building The 11-story Hippodrome building, viewed from the north side of Euclid Avenue. Although this photo is labeled 1909, it is actually from sometime soon after 1916 because the building to its right, William Taylor Son & Co. department store, was increased from four to eight stories in that year. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Photograph Collection Creator: Louis Baus Date: ca. 1916
Theater Interior
Theater Interior When it opened in 1907, Cleveland's Hippodrome was home to one of the largest stages in the US - second only to New York City's Hippodrome Theatre. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Photograph Collection Creator: American Post Cards Date: 1908
Aida Poster
Aida Poster This 1908 poster by the Hippodrome Opera Co. of Cleveland advertised Aida, a four-part Verdi opera set in ancient Egypt. In the opera, Aida, an Ethiopian princess, has been captured by the Egyptians. The poster depicts "the triumphal scene in act 2, scene 2." Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Creator: Otis Lithograph Co. Date: 1908
Lillian Russell
Lillian Russell An ad for Russell's appearance at the Hippodrome in 1912. Russell was one of the great singers and actresses of the vaudeville era. Source: Cleveland Memory Date: 1912
Greenery in Hippodrome Lobby
Greenery in Hippodrome Lobby The Hipp's lobby featured a profusion of plants and greenery more than a century ago. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Souvenir Post Card Exchange Date: ca. 1916
Main Stairway on Mezzanine Floor
Main Stairway on Mezzanine Floor Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: K-win & Co. Date: ca. 1916
Hippodrome Inn Restaurant
Hippodrome Inn Restaurant This restaurant was billed as "Down the Stairs in the Hippodrome Entrance." Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: ca. 1930s
Rear Marquee, Prospect Avenue
Rear Marquee, Prospect Avenue The Hippodrome spanned the space between Euclid and Prospect Avenues. Entrances were available on both streets. Note the marquee in this 1949 photograph. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Photograph Collection Date: 1949
Final Breaths of the Hipp
Final Breaths of the Hipp During its waning years as office tenants had left and movie-goers dwindled, the Hippodrome screened a number of exploitation films to attract viewers. This movie listing from 1979 boasts a "Bruce Li" film hoping to attract Bruce Lee fans. Source: The Plain Dealer Date: October 4, 1979

Location

720 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44114 | Demolished

Metadata

Heidi Fearing, “Hippodrome,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 23, 2024, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/25.