Playhouse Square (often referenced on city maps and street signs as The Theater District) has long been a cultural and entertainment hub of downtown Cleveland. Its development began in 1920, with Joseph Laronge’s construction of the Ohio and State Theaters on Euclid Avenue, between East 14th and East 17th Streets. Both theaters were designed in Italianate style by architect Thomas Lamb. At the same time, across Euclid Avenue, Charles Platt opened his Hanna Building, with its incorporated Hanna Theater, as the Bulkley Building and its Allen Theater also opened. Within but one more year, the Keith Building and its Palace Theater would also open. In the space of just a few years at the start of the Roaring ‘20s, Cleveland had acquired its five great theaters.
Those theaters entertained Clevelanders young and old from the 1920s through the 1960s with classic theater productions, vaudeville shows, lounge acts, and even movies. Then a decline of a decade and more afflicted the theaters, beginning with a serious fire, and exacerbated by vandalism, a clientele shifting ever more to suburban communities, and the rise in television’s popularity. The tide turned back toward theatrical resurgence in the 1970s, as first the non-profit Playhouse Square Association was formed, and public opinion amassed behind restoring Playhouse Square’s greatness.
Renovation and restoration of the various theaters began in earnest in the late 1970s, and continues today. As those theaters returned to glory, additional investment in the Playhouse Square district came about. A new office tower, the Renaissance, opened at the key intersection of the district, as did a new Wyndham Hotel. Improvements were also made to public spaces within the district. Jumbo video screens, neon lighting, and a ‘news crawl’ message board were added on the Square. Neighboring office and residential buildings were also renovated and reopened.
Today the theaters continue to offer touring productions of drama, opera, musical and specialty shows. The Great Lakes Theater Festival is held annually, while sold-out performances of The Nutcracker punctuate each year’s holiday festivities.
The most recent enhancement to the district is the completion of the Euclid Corridor, a transportation project linking Playhouse Square to both Public Square and to the Cleveland State University campus with improved bus service and roadway and pedestrian amenities.