The Playhouse Square Center, in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, is the second-largest theater complex in the United States (second only to New York City's Lincoln Center). Constructed in a span of nineteen months in the early 1920s, the theaters were subsequently closed down, but were revived through a grass-roots effort. Their renovation and reopening helped usher in a new era of downtown revitalization in Cleveland, and was called “one of the top ten successes in Cleveland history.”
The organization’s first two theaters, the Ohio and State, were designed by eminent architect Thomas W. Lamb in the Italianate style. It was considered essential for the theaters' marquees to face Euclid Avenue, but because of space constraints the State Theater was built at the back of the lot, although its lobby shares the Euclid frontage with the Ohio Theater. Construction began in 1920, and the pair opened in early February 1921.
Across Euclid Avenue, Charles A. Platt's Hanna Theater, part of the Hanna Building complex, opened in late March 1921. Although the theater faces East 14th street, it is still considered to be part of the Playhouse Square Center. It was named for the prominent Cleveland Senator Mark Hanna.
Meanwhile, the Bulkley Building housing the C. Howard Crane-designed Allen Theater, then called the Allen movie house, was being built next door. Completed in early April 1921, Jules and Jay Allen's Pompeiian-style theater was sold to the Loews in 1922.
The last theater to be constructed was the Palace Theater, opening in November 1922 in the Keith Building, which at the time was the tallest in Cleveland. Designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp, the Palace was the flagship theater of the Keith chain of vaudeville theaters.
The area surrounding the theaters soon became known as “Playhouse Square.” The Euclid Square Association, a civic group, tried to rename the district “Euclid Square,” although these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. The original name is still commonly used today, although the area is now officially known as the “Theater District.”
Plans to reopen and restore the theaters began almost immediately. In 1970, Raymond K. Shepardson, a Cleveland Public Schools employee, formed a non-profit group named the “Playhouse Square Association” with the Junior League of Cleveland, Inc. The cover of the February 27 1970 issue of Life was a two-page pull-out of James H. Daugherty's The Spirit of Cinema America, a mural in the State Theater's lobby.
Plans to raze the Ohio and the State Theaters in 1972 and 1977 caused a public outcry, and in 1973 the newly-formed Playhouse Square Foundation obtained long-term leases for the Palace, Ohio, and State Theaters, while Cuyahoga County commissioners purchased the Loews Building. Also in 1973, the musical revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris opened in the State Theater's lobby. Expected to run three weeks, the show instead played for two years. In 1978, the Playhouse Square Group was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Work began on the State Theater in May 1979, and was completed in the summer of 1984, after the addition of a brand-new $7 million stagehouse. Renovation of the theater's three lobbies was completed in 1987. Because of its extensive fire damage, the Ohio Theater was originally intended to be the last of the theaters to undergo renovation, but those plans were accelerated so that the theater could become the home of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, now the Great Lakes Theater Festival. The $4 million project was begun at the end of 1981 and completed in less than nine months. Restoration of the Palace Theater began in 1987, and was finished the following year. As part of the project, expanded parking facilities were added to the complex.
Reconstruction of the Allen Theater lagged behind the rest, partly because some felt that three theaters were enough for the district. However, in 1993 the Playhouse Square Foundation agreed to rent the theater with the intention of purchasing it, which it did in 1997. This acquisition made Playhouse Square Center the second-largest performing arts complex in the United States, with over 10,000 seats. The Allen re-opened in 1998.
Although the Hanna Theater was the only one of the group not to close in 1968 or 1969, it was overshadowed by the revitalization of the four Euclid Avenue theaters during the 1980s, and closed in 1989. However, renovation began in 1993, and under the direction of Ray Shepardson, who had been influential in Playhouse Square's revitalization during the 1970s, the Hanna reopened in March 1996 - the 75th anniversary of its original opening. In 1999, the Playhouse Square Foundation acquired the Hanna, making it the fifth and last of the original theaters to be purchased by the foundation.
In 2007, while Broadway Stagehands struck in New York, Broadway plays were going on at Playhouse Square, because the Cleveland I.A.T.S.E has a universal contract with Playhouse Square. Since all the theaters are one umbrella, Cleveland stagehands have one agreement, unlike in New York where theaters are privately owned.
In January 2008, the Hanna Theater will undergo renovation with improvements to its stage. The stage will have a hydraulic lift system where it could rise so people could see the action. The renovation should be completed by October.
Setting, the stage: the playhouse square foundation and ideastream's partnership in a unique high-tech renovated building on Euclid Avenue sets a precedent for collaboration between nonprofits in Northeast Ohio.(NONPROFITS)
Nov 01, 2005; In one of the conference rooms in Playhouse Square's corporate offices is a large poster for the musical revue "Jacques Brel is...
A moving scene: a focus on creating partnerships with area organizations has helped Art Falco and Playhouse Square Foundation transform the theater district into a thriving hub of arts and education.(2005 ANTHEM IMPACT AWARDS)
Oct 01, 2005; Art Falco has one of the best seats in the house. From his perch on second floor of the Bulkley Building, the president and CEO...
Broadway hits coming to Playhouse Square: `Drowsy Chaperone,' `Jersey Boys,' `Color Purple' will stop off in Cleveland next season.
Mar 21, 2007; Byline: Elaine Guregian Mar. 21--Northeast Ohio will launch the national tour of the hit Broadway comedy The Drowsy Chaperone...