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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

PLAYHOUSE SQUARE - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

PLAYHOUSE SQUARE is a district at Euclid Avenue and East 14th Street comprising five theaters as well as office buildings, stores, and restaurants. The possibility of making the portion of Euclid east to 17th Street into a stretch of fine shops and vaudeville, movie, and legitimate theaters was envisioned by Joseph Laronge after World War I. Together with Marcus Loew of the New York theater syndicate, Laronge and others formed Loew's Ohio Theatres, and as the concept developed, the planned entertainment district took shape between 1920 and 1922. The first two theaters to open were the STATE THEATER and OHIO THEATER theaters, both in February 1921. The ALLEN THEATRE opened two months later in the Bulkley Building next door. The 8-story commercial and office building contained an innovative enclosed parking garage behind the theater. Compared to other exotic movie palaces of the 1920s, the relatively early Playhouse Square theaters were in a restrained classical style, with lavish use of marble, expensive woods, murals, tapestries, and gilded plaster relief. The PALACE THEATER, built to house the performances of the Keith vaudeville circuit, opened in November 1922 in front of Loew's State on East 17th Street. Above the lobby and foyer rose the 21-story B. F. Keith Building. Connections between the four theaters made it possible to go from the Palace stage into Loew's State, from there into the Ohio, and finally into the Bulkley Building and the Allen Theater. In March 1921 the HANNA THEATER opened in the annex of the Hanna Building across Euclid Avenue. Although the legitimate theater actually fronted on East 14th Street, it was regarded as part of the Playhouse Square district.

After more than 40 successful years of vaudeville, motion pictures, stage plays, and even Cinerama, the Allen, State, Ohio, and Palace were all closed in 1969. At that time a plan to save the theaters--which have a combined capacity and flexibility greater than that of Washington's Kennedy Center--was conceived by Ray Shepardson, an employee of CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS. In 1970 a nonprofit group, the Playhouse Square Association, was formed with support from the JUNIOR LEAGUE OF CLEVELAND, INC.. In 1973 the Playhouse Square Foundation was created to carry out the restoration, operation, and management of the theaters. By 1977 the foundation obtained long-term leases for the Palace and also the State and Ohio in the Loew's Building, which was purchased by the Cuyahoga County Commissioners. A combination of funding from government, local foundations, and private corporations was committed to the project. By 1991 the Ohio, State, and Palace had been reopened and were playing to 750,000 patrons a year. In November 1994 the Allen Theater reopened as well, although its restoration lasted another four years. The acquisition of the Hanna, Building and Theatre in 1999 completed the effort to rescue the district's original venues. A 750-car connected parking garage was built on Chester Avenue to serve the complex, and Playhouse became involved in the co-financing of nationally touring shows as The Secret Garden and The Color Purple.

In 2005 the One Playhouse Square Building at 1375 Euclid Avenue, originally built by WALKER AND WEEKS in 1912, was refurbished and reopened as the Idea Center at Playhouse Square. The center housed two stories of expanded facilities for Foundation-led arts education and theatre programs as well as the new headquarters of Cleveland public broadcasters WVIZ (television) and 90.3 WCPN (radio), merged together as Ideastream. The same year, Playhouse Square Foundation reported over one million attendants to the 5-theater complex, although grants and annual donations continued to be the Foundation's main source of funding.

Following the 1991 departure of Lawrence Wilker, the first president of Playhouse Square Foundation (1973-1991), to become manager of Kennedy Center, Art J. Falco became the Foundation's President and CEO. As of 2007 Falco continued to hold this position.

Last Modified: 19 Mar 2008 10:16:07 PM

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