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A PHOENIX HAS RISEN FROM THE ASHES: Historic Ohio Theatre Lobby Re-Created, Made Possible by George Gund Foundation Contribution

May 19, 2016

Cleveland, OH – When work first began on the re-creation of the Ohio Theatre lobby, Jeff Greene, president and executive project director of EverGreene Architectural Arts (EAA) said, “We are going to re-construct this lobby as authentically as possible. You will see a phoenix rise from the ashes when we are done.” And it certainly has.

“As the lobby has come together over the course of this project, we have had people stop and ask why all of the beautiful ornamentation was covered up,” explained Tom Einhouse, Playhouse Square vice president of facilities and capital. “They are amazed to learn that wasn’t the case. The re-creation of this lobby has been a project unlike any other the restoration experts and architects have undertaken.”

The first of the five historic Playhouse Square theaters to be restored, the Ohio Theatre was badly damaged by fire in 1964. The auditorium was salvageable, but the lobby was completely destroyed. All of the original lobby ornamentation – the murals, ornate ceiling, columns, decorative fireplaces – was lost in the fire. During its early 1980s’ renovation, funding and time would not allow both the auditorium and lobby to be fully refurbished. While the auditorium was restored, a simple, contemporary design was created for the lobby.

Exhaustive research of the original drawings by architect Thomas Lamb, photo archives and a few remaining bits of ornamental plaster detail provided a thorough understanding of the space and informed the plan for re-creating the lobby. Great care was taken to ensure each element – from the carpeting and millwork to the detailed ceiling and murals - was reproduced as faithfully as possible, while at the same time taking into consideration the needs and preferences of today’s audiences. Artisans at EAA hand-sculpted prototypes using authentic, Old World techniques in order to make plaster reproductions of the ornamental detail. This hand-sculpting took 8500 hours to complete.

Six other artisans spent three months hand-painting the lobby’s three 10-foot x 30-foot murals on canvas at EAA’s studio in New York. The murals, inspired by the leading painter of the classical French Baroque style Nicolas Poussin, are “Birth of Venus” (west), “Triumph of Bacchus” (east) and “Muses of Poems and Music” (south).

The re-creation of the lobby design was a collaboration between EverGreene Architectural Arts and Westlake Reed Leskosky. Construction management and contracting services were provided by Turner Construction and The Coniglio Company, working with a variety of local companies.

“Everyone working on the project recognized how truly special this undertaking has been. To re-create Thomas Lamb’s vision for this lobby nearly 100 years later is extraordinary, and it took an extraordinary collaboration to make it happen. Everyone worked well together and we are thrilled with the result,” said Einhouse.

While the re-creation of this lobby completes the restoration of Playhouse Square’s historic theaters, the world’s largest theater restoration project, the work does not end. “We are the stewards of these theaters,” stated Art J. Falco, president and CEO of Playhouse Square. “It is our responsibility to ensure we properly maintain them and keep them as beautiful as they are now for future generations.”

The extensive Ohio Theatre lobby project was made possible by a $3 million gift from The George Gund Foundation to Advancing the Legacy, The Campaign for Playhouse Square. In recognition of the foundation’s generosity, the lobby has been renamed the “George Gund Foundation Lobby.”

“Playhouse Square is one of Cleveland’s great success stories,” said David Abbott, Gund Foundation executive director. “This gift to Playhouse Square’s Advancing the Legacy campaign helps ensure that Clevelanders will continue to enjoy the arts and cultural programs that take place in its beautifully restored theaters for years to come.”

“The Gund Foundation has been a great supporter of the arts and of Playhouse Square for many years,” said Falco. “We are grateful for their gift which enabled us to re-create this gem for Northeast Ohio.”

“Advancing the Legacy, The Campaign for Playhouse Square,” led by chairs Thomas Adler, K.K. Sullivan and Daniel Walsh, is the largest philanthropic effort ever pursued by the organization. $68 million dollars have been raised toward the campaign to date and its objectives are: capital improvements, endowment growth, neighborhood transformation, education programming and new productions.

Free public tours of Playhouse Square are held on the first Saturday of most months. The next tour is Saturday, June 4. Tours begin every 15 minutes between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. For more information, visit playhousesquare.org/tours.

More information about Advancing the Legacy, The Campaign for Playhouse Square is available at playhousesquare.org/legacy.

Read the Cleveland.com article on the George Gund Foundation Lobby here.

Watch "Playhouse Square: Restoring the Legacy," documenting the re-creation of the lobby here (run time: 23 minutes).