Playhouse Square came into being after World War I when local real estate developer Joseph Laronge, who had already opened the Stillman Theater on East 12th Street, formed a partnership to build a row of theaters on Euclid Avenue between East 14th and East 17th Streets, thus creating the largest performing arts center in the United States outside of New York City.
Five theaters opened between February 1921 and November 1922 along Euclid Avenue between East 14th and East 17th Streets. Four of the theaters – the Allen, Ohio, State and Palace – were on the north side of Euclid, with the Hanna across the street in the Hanna Building.
The theaters originally offered silent movies, legitimate theater and vaudeville. Later, during the Great Depression, movies became the main form of entertainment. While there were several factors to the theaters’ demise, chief among them was the post World War II change in the way people spent their entertainment dollars, with many people spending their leisure time in newly developed suburbs. Television was also a factor. While the Allen, Ohio, State and Palace theaters 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 struggled to stay open for almost two more decades.
In 1972, civic leaders stopped the planned destruction of the Ohio and State theaters. The purchase and eventual reopening of the Allen Theatre in October of 1998 meant that for the first time in over 30 years, all four marquees on Euclid Avenue burned at night. Shortly after that opening the Playhouse Square Foundation purchased the Hanna Building and the Hanna Theatre. Once again Cleveland could lay claim to the largest performing arts center in the United States outside of New York City. In a newspaper poll, civic leaders hailed “the saving of Playhouse Square” as the leading triumph on a list of the top 10 successes in Cleveland history. See a timeline of events.
This Web site, a collaborative effort between The Playhouse Square Foundation and the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University, contains images of prominent figures and events from the history of Playhouse Square, as well as images of the theaters over time. This site also documents some of the productions that comprise the history of Playhouse Square from its inception to the present time.
This website is the practicum project of Library and Information Science student, Calvin Rydbom. He would especially like to thank the following people from Playhouse Square Center: John H. Hemsath, Director of Theater Operations; Ruth Flannery, Real Estate Property Coordinator; and Carol Lee Vella. He would also like to thank the Michael Schwartz Library staff in Special Collections, the Digital Production Unit and Library Systems for their help and guidance.