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Playhouse Square, Cleveland, Ohio

Updated on March 16, 2011
Playhouse Square, Cleveland, Ohio
Playhouse Square, Cleveland, Ohio

One of the prime attractions of the city of Cleveland, Ohio is the Playhouse Square theater district. Containing seven different theaters — most of them historic and recently renovated — Playhouse Square embodies more theatrical seating than anywhere else in the continental U. S. other than New York City's Lincoln Center.

Northeast Ohio's premier theater district originated with the construction of both the State and Ohio Theaters in 1920, fronting on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland's 'Avenue of Millionaires'. Developer Joseph Laronge began with the State Theater and the Ohio Theater, each created in an Italian Renaissance style by Thomas Lamb. These theaters were soon followed by Charles Pratt's Hanna Theater in the Hanna Building, on an opposing corner of Euclid and East 14th Street. Soon, the Allen Theater opened in the nearby Bulkley Building. A fifth theater, The Palace, within the Keith Building, rounded out the roster of entertainment venues.

Thus, by the end of the Roaring 1920s, Cleveland featured a cultural and entertainment center of five grand theaters, hosting vaudeville, musical revues, lounge acts, theatrical performances and novelty acts. For the next four decades, the district drew young and old alike to its varied offerings.

However, throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Cleveland suffered, as did many other established Midwestern 'rustbelt' urban centers. A confluence of factors — urban decay, flight to suburbs, race riots, the increasing entertainment dominance of movies and television, population shifts to the nation's south and west, stagnation of the city economy — led to significant decline of the theater district; further ailments included continuing vandalism and a major theater fire.

Then, by the late 1970s, the Playhouse Square Association took shape as a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring Playhouse Square to its preeminence. The additional facilities of The Kennedy Theater and The 14th Street Theaters were created. Restoration efforts were redoubled, as investment in the district returned and increased. A new downtown hotel, The Wyndham at Playhouse Square opened, as did a new 15-story office tower, US Bank Centre. At their feet, a triangular plaza and park were developed by the City.

In the 1990s, The Playhouse Square Association hired the local architectural and sign design firm of ZZ Design to create Times Square-style signage and lighting effects for Playhouse Square. Fiber optic lighting, a 'ticker-tape'-style reader board, and several massive electronic video screens were added to enliven the public spaces of the Square and Euclid Avenue.

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