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 – 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 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.