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Our Mission:

We are a not-for-profit performing arts center who presents and produces a wide variety of quality performing arts, advances arts education and creates a neighborhood that is a superior destination for entertainment, business and residential living, thereby strengthening the economic vitality of the region.

The Stage

Presenting and producing a variety of the finest entertainment for the betterment of the community. more

Arts Education

A national leader in engaging the community through enriching experiences in the performing arts. more

Area Development

A major area developer creating a vibrant destination and economically-strong neighborhood. more

Not-for-Profit

Performing Arts Center

A not-for-profit that must raise over $4 million dollars annually to continue improving the region's quality of life. more

A Message from Art Falco, CEO and President, PlayhouseSquare


The celebration of our 90th Anniversary in 2012 gave us the opportunity to tell a unique story about the saving of PlayhouseSquare. The history of the theaters, included on this website, in historical archives and in many books written over the years, explain how the theaters came to be, how they were used during their heyday, abandoned later, then brought back to life. Those sources feature interesting facts about the architecture, décor, famous performers, and even a bit about Cleveland’s past.

But they do not tell the human side….The personal, passionate and often poignant stories of an unlikely group of activists, volunteers, businessmen and artists. The tale of how they banded together to defeat the wrecking ball, each group passing the torch to the next, to save the theaters from certain demolition. And the leaders who took that foundation and built upon it the largest performing arts center in the country outside of New York. 

PlayhouseSquare is Cleveland’s indisputable gem and we couldn’t be more proud. Please share in the celebration by viewing interviews with our visionaries, our PBS special, “Staging Success: The PlayhouseSquare story,” or by purchasing a copy of Staging Success: The PlayhouseSquare Story DVD.

As stated by many of the people we interviewed, the saving, rebuilding, then growing PlayhouseSquare was an idea that went beyond their wildest dreams. We are so thankful that they dared to dream so big.

The renovation project of the Palace, State, Ohio and Allen Theatres still remains the world’s largest. The 90th anniversary celebration gave us the opportunity to say “thank you” by paying tribute to the visionaries who made it possible.

Staging Success: The PlayhouseSquare Story | Documentary and Interview Archives


Interview with Art Falco

Interview with Barbara Robinson

Interview with Bob Rody

Interview with Cecilia Hartman

Interview with Dennis Kucinich

Interview with Forrest Hayes

Interview with Glenn Brown

Interview with Joe Garry

Interview with John Hemsath

Interview with John Lewis

Interview with Jon Outcalt

Interview with Jules Belkin

Interview with Julian McCall

Interview with KK Sullivan

Interview with Lainie Hadden

Interview with Larry Wilker

Interview with Mike Belkin

Interview with Natalie Epstein

Interview with Oliver Pudge Henkel

Interview with Patrick Sweeney

Interview with Peter Galvin

Interview with Peter van Dijk

Interview with Ray Shepardson

Interview with Sally Winter

Interview with Senator George Voinovich

Interview with Tom Adler

Interview with Tom Stevens

Interview with David Frazier

PlayhouseSquare thanks the Cleveland Foundation, Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, Think Media Studios and WVIZ/PBS ideastream® for making “Staging Success” possible.


History

PlayhouseSquare, in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, is the “world’s largest theater restoration project,” and the country’s largest performing arts center outside New York City (eclipsed only by Lincoln Center), as well as Northeast Ohio’s home for touring Broadway shows, concerts, comedy, opera, dance and children’s programming.

PlayhouseSquare draws more than 1 million people annually to its eight performance venues while contributing in excess of $43 million in local economic impact every year exclusively from its performing arts activity (according to a Cleveland State University 2004 study).

The not-for-profit PlayhouseSquare is not only a tourist destination, economic development engine, entertainment presenter and producer and a district real estate developer, has become a national leader in arts education, creating the nationally-acclaimed and much-copied “Partners in Performance” bus subsidy program that, as of 2009, has funded the bussing of 60,000-plus students to shows.

Today PlayhouseSquare’s nine performance spaces include the Connor Palace, State, Ohio, Allen, Hanna and 14th Street Theatres, as well as Kennedy’s Cabaret, the Westfield Insurance Studio Theatre and Star Plaza.

PlayhouseSquare’s original five venues (Ohio, Palace, State, Allen and Hanna) were constructed in the 1920s in a mere 19 months. Impacted by the rise of television and population flight to suburbia, by 1968-’69 all but the Hanna were eventually boarded up, as entertainment also moved to the suburbs. But in the 1970s, a grass-roots effort saved the historic venues from the wrecking ball, restoring and re-opening the theaters one by one, ushering in a new era of downtown revitalization, which was heralded by the media as “one of the top 10 successes in Cleveland history.”

Theatre History


State Theatre

theatre_thumb_state.jpgOpened: February 5, 1921

Closed: February 2, 1969

Purpose: Movies & Vaudville

Style: Combines Roman, Greek & European Baroque

Features: Four 50-foot murals by American Modernist James Daugherty (1890-1974). Fifth mural by Arnold Englander. Total length of lobby from street to theater is 320 feet (said to be the longest in the world).

First Show: Movie- A Polly with a Past & Buster Keaton short, Neighbors. Hyman Spitalny and his orchestra.

Re-opened: June 9, 1984

Ohio Theatre

theatre_thumb_ohio.jpgOpened: February 14, 1921

Closed: February 2, 1969

Purpose: Legitimate Theater

Style: Italian Renaissance

Features: Italian Renaissance lobby contained 3 murals by Sampitrotti, entitled “Cycle of Venus.” Two paintings by P. Pizzi, in balcony of 14th century Venetian designed auditorium (All lost in lobby fire of 1964)

First Show: Play- The Return of Peter Grimm with David Warfield

Re-opening date: July 9, 1982

Hanna Theatre

theatre_thumb_hanna.jpg

Opened: March 28, 1921

Closed: 1988

Purpose: Legitimate Theater

Style: Italian Renaissance

Features: Interior features bronze trimming and marble corridors.Original ceiling- coffered Roman- remains today.

First Show: Play- Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper starring William Haversham.

Re-Opened: Septemeber 1997; September 20, 2008 (restored)

Allen Theatre

theatre_thumb_allen.jpgOpened: April 1, 1921

Closed: May 7, 1968

Purpose: Movies

Style: Italian Renaissance

Features: One of the few “daylight atmospheric” theaters in the country. Side boxes decorative only.

First Show: Silent movie- The Greatest Love- Phillip Spitainy and 35 piece orchestra.

Re-Opened: November 1, 1994 (unrestored); October 3, 1998 (restored); September 16, 2011 (renovated)

Connor Palace

theatre_thumb_palace.jpg

Opened: November 6, 1922

Closed: July 20, 1969

Purpose: Vaudville (B.F. Keith);(Modified for movies, 1926)

Style: French Imperial

Features: Grand Hall, Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers, blue urn made in Serves, France before WWI. Seven floors of dressing rooms backstage.

First Show: Vaudville- Elsie Janis, the Cansinos, and Grace Hayes, several additional acts and a big band. (Orch. seat was $1.65)

Re-opened: April 30, 1988

Kennedy’s Cabaret

thumb_kennedys.jpgPurpose: Cabaret Theater

Features: Located under the Ohio Theatre lobby and was formerly a workroom for the State Theatre. It contains an ashwood bar from the old Elegant Hog Saloon on Buckeye Road and is decorated with original 3-sheets. It is named in memory of Kathleen Kennedy, author of “Conversations with an Irish Rascal,” and an early staff member of the Playhouse Square Center project.

Westfield Insurance Studio Theatre

Opened: Sepetember 10, 2005

Purpose: Multi-purpose Black-Box

The Rise and Fall of PlayhouseSquare


Between February 1921 and November 1922, five opulent theaters opened along the stretch of Euclid Avenue between E. 14th and E. 17th streets. Four of the new theaters – the Allen, Ohio, State and Palace, renamed Connor Palace in 2014 – were contiguous on the north side of Euclid; across the street, the Hanna was located within the Hanna Office Building.

The district around the theaters was dubbed “Playhouse Square,” which some considered a frivolous tag. A civic organization called the Euclid Square Association convened and resolved to christen the district “Euclid Square.” Its efforts, however, were in vain, as the public vernacular continued to call it “Playhouse Square.” (As a result of a branding campaign in 2008, the designation of the area was changed from two words to simply “PlayhouseSquare.”)

The venues presented silent movies, legitimate theater and vaudeville until the Depression era demanded cheaper entertainment, which movies would provide. But the post-World War II flight to the suburbs and the rise of television sent the downtown theaters into a death spiral that accelerated throughout the 1950s and 1960s. While the Allen, Ohio, State and Connor Palace had opened in a 19-month span, it took just 14 months (from May 1968 to July 1969) for all four to close. The Hanna limped along for almost two more decades.

The grand old theaters that closed became subject to neglect and vandalism. No one foresaw their renovation and reopening, especially when suburban cinemas consigned downtown movie palaces to the ash heap. But gradually, a bold plan evolved to rescue the four shuttered theaters and meld them into a fine arts and entertainment center.

The planners formed a group known as the “Playhouse Square Association,” which gained formal non-profit status in 1970. The Playhouse Square Association, led by a group of visionaries, launched a launched a vigorous grass-roots campaign to save the theaters.

Rescue and Rebirth


The threatened razing of the Ohio and State in 1972 galvanized community leaders, including politicians, activists, funders, businessmen, and the Junior League, who obtained a stay of execution. In succeeding years, limited repair and renovation allowed for sporadic staging of productions as money was raised for complete restoration. The musical revue Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris opened in the State Theatre lobby in 1973 with expectations of a three-week run. It would play for two years setting an Ohio performance record!

Bolstered by such artistic successes, the preservationists continued to: stave off demolition, assemble a professional management team and raise $40 million in a spirit of public/private partnership (with half the funds coming from each sector).

Restoration began in earnest, and culminated with the July 1982 reopening of the Ohio Theatre. By the end of the 1980s, the curtain had risen again in both the State and Connor Palace. The Allen remained on the endangered list until 1993, when “Playhouse Square Foundation,” the nonprofit organization that operated the center, rented the theater with an agreement to purchase it. The purchase was consummated in 1997, and the restored Allen reopened in October, 1998 with a weekend-long celebration. In 1999, an investment group led by PlayhouseSquare agreed to acquire the historic Hanna Building, a move that brought control of the Hanna Theatre as well as significant street-level retail opportunities.

In a newspaper poll, civic leaders hailed “the saving of PlayhouseSquare” as the leading triumph on a list of the top 10 successes in Cleveland history.

For more information about the History of PlayhouseSquare, read the book PlayhouseSquare: An Entertaining History available at playhousesquarestore.com.