As the summer of 1973 dawned Brel was kicking into high gear, the show had really taken Cleveland by storm, and night after night was sold out. Five nights a week, Wednesday through Sunday the show would be on. Most of our daily activities would revolve around preparing for the evening performance, tables and chairs had to be shuffled about to accommodate each evenings seating chart, Notable people and those who frequently attended were listed as VIPs, and after a while it seemed like half of those reservation cards were tagged VIP. I seem to recall a Dr Litt bringing large groups, sometimes as many as 20 at a time, almost every week.
Around this time Russell and I decided to go halves on a stereo. We’d cleaned out the old Loew’s Theatres division offices, on the mezzanine once occupied by Herb Brown, and were planning to make it our hang out. We scraped together about $150 and went up to Olson Electronics on the 1900 block of Euclid Avenue. We ended up buying one of those (then) newfangled quadraphonic stereos, with 8-track player. We lugged this thing several blocks back down the street and hooked it up in our new hangout. Needless to say, it didn’t work all that well, one of the speakers didn’t work at all. The next day we hauled it back up to Olson’s and the guy replaced a fuse. We hauled it back, but it still didn’t sound all that good. A few days later, Pete Webber was looking for a gift for his younger sister’s birthday, and we somehow convinced him to buy this great stereo we had. I’m not sure how much we suckered him into paying, but I don’t think we took much of a loss, if any. A day or two after the sister’s birthday, Pete is telling us the stereo isn’t working properly. We of course played stupid; acting like it was something he must have done to it. Our hangout in the old Loew’s division office on the State mezzanine didn’t last long either, we got kicked out of there not long after we cleaned the room up. This pattern would continue over the next few months.
One Friday night that summer a bunch of us went over to the Allen to catch a closed circuit boxing match. Technically we no longer operated the Allen, but I could pretty much come and go as I pleased. So after Brel, I took Jeff Williams, Billy Barnett, Russell, and another one or two people over there, (quite possibly Randy Leitch and/or Tom Terbrack). The best way to go was down Dodge Court, and through the Allen’s stage door. For these closed circuit fights there was a special screen, which would be pulled back a little, and held in place by a long piece of wire. Somehow I forgot to mention that fact to the others, and several of them tripped on the wire, making the screen shake, and the crowd yell. We quickly went down the hall off the stage, and found seats. We’d only been seated a minute or two, when people with flashlights came down to investigate. But seeing nothing, they went away.
At some point that summer, maybe early July, we went dark for a couple weeks and did a major overhaul of the operation, Brel was only supposed to run for a few weeks, but after it took off some of the hastily made arrangements from early spring needed to be upgraded. We scrubbed the hideous orange carpet in the lobby seating area; Weldon scrubbed and polished the inner lobby floor. A major feat was the installation of much needed air conditioning for the lobby. The huge AC unit was delivered to a parking lot on 17th Street, and hoisted to the roof of the State lobby by helicopter on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t long after we re-opened that Russell dumped a huge can of ice onto the inner lobby floor, destroying a large section of Weldon’s recently waxed floor.
Sometime around then was the famed luncheon in the Loew Building. Weldon had been bragging to anyone who would listen about what a great chef he was. So one day I helped him clear out a room on the second floor of the Loew Building, the former Arthur Murray space, and move in a few tables and chairs. Paul Hom let Weldon use the kitchen and he cooked a huge feast which about a half dozen of us thoroughly enjoyed. I know there was Flo, Eddie Garbach’s mother (whose name I can’t remember), Me and a couple others. What made this infamous is that none of us cleaned up afterwards, so these plates of food remained there for years, petrified, until the building was gutted and renovated in 1978.
Mondays and Tuesdays were reserved for clean up and roof work. Dennis, Chuck F. and I all spent a number of days up on the roofs of the theatres, patching leaks that never seemed to go away. At least once a week one of us would drag out the hose and wash down our side of 17th Street. There was always a lot of debris along 17th, old wine bottles, and general litter from the crowds who would wait for those West Side buses during weekday rush hours.
There was a system in place to clean up the lobby area after the Brel shows early on. It consisted of having someone work two nights, then work days for the rest of the week. As far as I can recall the two main people who did this were Pete Webber, and Chuck Fleming. The problem they both had, and frequently complained of, was that that schedule was hard to adapt to. At some point that summer Frank Derry, who was one of the waiters, became the night watchman. I was assigned to show him around. So we went all over the State Theatre, then over to the Palace. I took him over to the Palace dressing rooms, which were quite decrepit and in serious disrepair. Most of the ceiling had caved in on the first floor chorus room, further up there was a lot of major water damage, especially on the 7th floor. These rooms hadn’t been used much since the early 1950’s. We were heading up the stairs, not sure exactly how far we were on the way up to the 7th floor. Suddenly this old pipe rolled down the steps, we froze in terror, looked at each other, and then fled back down to the stage.
Incidentally Frank Derry was the one who hipped me to 1950’s rock and roll, especially Dion Dimucci. He had a Carmen Gia he used to park up in the outside lobby of the State. There was a few times he had to explain parking there to the police, who once they knew who the car belonged to were cool with it. It was a fairly common practice in downtown Cleveland back then. I can remember walking past the May Company at night and seeing a number of cars wedged into that space outside their front doors.
Late summer 1973 saw Brel in full swing in the State lobby, and work was beginning in the Palace. The success of Brel led to an attempt to try and duplicate that success. A lease, or some type of deal was worked out with the 1621 Euclid Corporation the owners of the Keith Building, which housed the Palace. Smitty was the first to be assigned to work on that project full time, followed by me. Most of what Smitty was doing involved rebuilding some of the smaller chandeliers replacing those that were missing. The Palace had been transformed into the International Trade & Fair around 1970, and had gone belly up the year before. The missing fixtures, for the most part, weren’t really gone as much as tossed into the mezzanine men’s rooms in a haphazard fashion. The lobby had been transformed into a wholesale showcase for their goods, and we needed to sort of transform the space in a dinner theatre type of operation.
Several major events took place at the Palace around this time. The first was the removal of the plywood that had covered the Euclid Avenue entrance since not long after the theatre closed in July 1969. At this time, the outside box office was removed, and new ceramic tiles were installed in the outside lobby. The other was removing the drywall that had covered the set of doors that lead from the outer lobby into the grand lobby. If I remember correctly Chuck Fleming handled this task. I think pretty much everyone was astonished at what that outer lobby looked like. There was lots of marble, marble floor, and marble columns. There was also two box offices, both with lots of brass, and more marble. One was a larger main box office, with an upper loft, that had all sorts of stuff in it. Tons of deadwood for The Agony and the Ecstasy, a 1966 film, old box office statements from Thoroughly Modern Millie, which showed dismal attendance. There was also a lot of stuff for the restroom vending machines, combs, soap, cigarette holders, etc.
I got stuck with the task of removing hundreds of big eyehooks in the ceiling at the back of the auditorium. This space had been the Trade Fair’s - Gallery of Lights. There was a wall that ran across the back of the auditorium just on the stage side of the marble railing in the back. The eye hooks were time consuming to remove, they were in there pretty good. At one point Smitty suggested asking the Roth – Warren Pharmacy people if I could use the tool they had for their awning, they said no. Once they were all removed, hundreds of small holes remained.
Around this time a local contingent of Jaycees started to volunteer, in return they were allowed to use the theatre for one night. Sometime that August they threw a beer bash with strippers on stage. I remember Barbie Doll doing her famous trick of shooting ping-pong balls into the audience. The next day the Palace reeked of stale beer, quite the mess to clean up. After this was when the seats off the orchestra floor were removed. I always thought this was a bad move. Contrary to the subsequent myth about the seats, they were in fine shape, better than the ones that were being used in the Allen at the same time. This was backbreaking work, unbolting them from the floor, hauling them down the street, in groups of 5 and 6, and then dumping them in the Ohio auditorium. This process must have taken at least two weeks, although it sure seemed longer.
By the end of the summer things were looking up, soon Brel would be reaching it's 100th performance and Cole Porter would be running in the Palace.
Above: Lobby of the State Theatre during Brel performance,1975, photo by William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc.