Friday, February 27, 2009

Playhouse Square – Cleveland’s Theatre District

The Palace Theatre Lobby

Clevelanders – along with most other people in the country – may not be aware that Cleveland’s Playhouse Square is the second largest theatre complex in the United States (only New York City’s Lincoln Center is larger in size) and it is second largest in the country in the number of productions (only Broadway in New York City has more).

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History gives some information about the beginnings of Playhouse Square:

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 Theatre and Ohio Theatre 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 Theatre, 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 Theatre 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.

Sadly, these theatres fell into decay in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and after a fire in one theatre and vandalism in the others, they were almost left for dead. But, in the 1970s, some visionaries had some ideas for the rebirth of the area. The Playhouse Square Association, a nonprofit organization, led by Raymond K. Shepardson, worked to help the rebirth happen and the theatres were saved. The resurgence of the area was helped by the musical review titled “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” which was supposed to only have a short few week’s run at the State Theatre. It was highly successful and remained there and captivated audiences for two years. The Playhouse Square Group was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Hanna Theatre Interior
Over the years, as more of the theatres have been restored and more and varied performances and artists were scheduled, the area is again vibrant. There are several hotels and restaurants in the immediate vicinity, making it very easy for visitors (and locals too) to have a real "dinner and a theatre" experience while they are staying in town.

Most recently, the Hanna Theatre was re-imagined and renovated, creating a state of the art theatre experience. The Hanna reopened in September of 2008, and is the jewel in the crown of Playhouse Square. The Hanna is also the new home of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival.

WKYC Channel 3 did a nice news feature on the revitalization of Playhouse Square, which you can view here:

References and further reading:

Playhouse Square web site

Wikipedia - Playhouse Square

Encyclopedia of Cleveland History – Playhouse Square

The Examiner - Playhouse Square: a second run for first-run movie palaces

Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information, All Things Cleveland, here.

No comments: