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The Playhouse Square Center, in downtown Cleveland, Ohiomarker, is the second-largest theater complex in the United States (second only to New York Citymarker's Lincoln Centermarker). 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.”

History

Construction

Following World War I, local developer Joseph Laronge, who had previously opened the Stillman movie house on East 12th street, envisioned a row of theaters on Euclid Avenue between East 14th and East 17th streets. Laronge and New York City business magnate Marcus Loew, among others, founded a partnership called Loew’s Ohio Theatres to develop the area.

The organization’s first two theaters, the Ohiomarker and Statemarker, 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 Theatre was built at the back of the lot, although its lobby shares the Euclid frontage with the Ohio Theatre. Construction began in 1920, and the pair opened in early February 1921.

Across Euclid Avenue, Charles A. Platt's Hanna Theatremarker, 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 Theatremarker was being built next door. Completed in early April 1921, Jules and Jay Allen's Pompeiianmarker-style theater was sold to Loew's in 1922.

The last theater to be constructed was the Palace Theatremarker, opening in November 1922 in the Keith Buildingmarker, which at the time was the tallest in Cleveland. Designed by the Chicagomarker architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp, the Palace was a regional flagship of the Keith-Albee 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.”

Closing and rebirth

The theaters successfully showed a variety of serious theater, vaudeville shows, and movies for over forty years. However, during the years following World War II, suburbanization and the rise of television led to the decline of the theaters. Fire broke out in the Ohio in 1964, and the other Playhouse theaters were struck by vandalism. Between May 1968 and July 1969, all the theaters closed except the Hanna.

Part of James Daugherty's The Spirit of Drama - Europe, one of four murals in the lobby of the State Theater


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 Theatre's lobby.

Plans to raze the Ohio and the State Theatres 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 Theatres, while Cuyahoga Countymarker 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 Theatre'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.

Renovation

Emboldened by the unprecedented success of Jacques Brel, restoration of the theaters began in earnest. Various public-private partnerships collected some $40 million for the project.

Work began on the State Theatre 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 Theatre 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 Theatre 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 Theatre 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 Theatre 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.

Playhouse Square today

The reopening of the State, Ohio, and Palace Theatres encouraged further development on Playhouse Square, including the $40 million Renaissance Office Building and a Wyndham Hotel. Other recent projects include the multi-million dollar transformation of the Playhouse Square Building and the Haig Avedesian Building into One Playhouse Square and the Playhouse Square Corporate Center, respectively, as well as the Huron Point and Perk Plaza parks. One Playhouse Square is now the downtown headquarters for Cleveland's WCPN public radio and WVIZmarker/PBS television station, incorporated together as ideastreammarker. Recently, ideastream and the Playhouse Square Foundation Arts Education Department formed a partnership known as "Idea Center," located on the three lower levels of One Playhouse Square, which will house ideastream's broadcasting studios and provide arts education and performance facilities.Playhouse Square has even taken a page from New York Citymarker's Times Square District. In 2005, three video projection monitors were installed on the Wyndham and Hanna Buildings with news tickers broadcasting news and advertising for Cleveland businesses. East 14th, Huron, and Euclid are Cleveland's equivalent of Times Square.

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 under one umbrella, Cleveland stagehands have one agreement, unlike in New York where theaters are privately owned.

In 2008, the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project will open and Playhouse Square will have a station on the Corridor. The Corridor will connect Public Squaremarker to the Cleveland Clinicmarker.

In January 2008, the Hanna Theatre underwent a thorough renovation with improvements to its stage including a new hydraulic lift system. The renovation was completed in October.

List of theaters



List of resident companies



References

  1. Playhouse Square Center. Accessed December 6 2006.
  2. "About PSC" Playhouse Square Center. 2003-2005. Accessed December 2 2006.
  3. "Playhouse Square Center" Builders Exchange Magazine. February 2004. Accessed December 2 2006.
  4. "Playhouse Square" The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. July 1, 1997. Accessed December 2 2006.
  5. "The Palace Theater" Encyclopedia of Cleveland history. May 13 1998. Accessed December 2 2006.
  6. "Feb 27, 1970" Life Magazine Cover. February 27 1970. Accessed December 2 2006.
  7. "The Hanna Theater" The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. July 17 1997. Accessed December 2 2006.
  8. "WVIZ/PBS and 90.3 WCPN ideastream and PLAYHOUSE SQUARE FOUNDATION Announce Bold, New Partnership" Idea Center. Accessed December 2 2006.
  9. "Idea Center Fact Sheet." Idea Center. Accessed December 5 2006.


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