Sunday, February 14, 2016

Loew's Ohio Theatre

95 years ago today, February 14, 1921, the Ohio Theatre opened it's doors. The Thomas Lamb designed theatre had a capacity of 1,400 and a lobby nearly as long as the neighboring Loew's State. The Ohio was originally designed as a legitimate house and served mostly as such until 1935 when it was radically altered into a supper club known as the Mayfair Casino. The Mayfair only lasted two years and sat mostly vacant until it was transformed into a picture house by it's original owner Loew's Inc.  Loew's Ohio was the home to many long run hard ticket roadshows in the 1950's and 60's. Loew's Ohio closed on February 9, 1969 and sat vacant until 1982 when it again became a legitimate house. Today it is one of the showplaces of Cleveland.
The Ohio lobby depicted in an ad from The Plain Dealer, April 3, 1921. This lobby was destroyed by fire on July 5, 1964 and was replaced by a modern lobby. That lobby was in turn replaced by a somewhat more tasteful lobby for the 1982 re-opening. As of this writing, work is progressing to restore the original lobby to it's 1921 appearance. More on that a little further down.
 Front of the Ohio Theatre, 1921, from Club Life, September 1982.
Ohio Theatre lobby, looking towards the Grand Stairs, Theatre Historical Society photo.
Another view of the lobby, 1921, Theatre Historical Society photo.
Top of the grand stairs, 1921. The doorway on the right led to Robert McLaughlin's office, Theatre Historical Society photo.
Mezzanine, looking towards the house left side (west), 1921. The doors on the left led to the top of the Grand Stairs.  The barely visible one, in the center to the Lady's Lounge, the entrance to the balcony is on the right. Theatre Historical Society photo.
Ohio Theatre auditorium, 1921, Theatre Historical Society photo.
Coverage of the opening, from The Plain Dealer, February 15, 1921.
From Variety, February 18, 1921.

The Ohio was originally operated by Ohio Theatres Inc who were lessees of Loew's Ohio Theatres Inc. Ohio Theatres Inc was operated by Robert McLaughlin who also operated several other legit houses, notably the Alhambra at 10403 Euclid Avenue and the Metropolitan at 5012 Euclid Avenue. Both were later operated as picture houses by Loew's Inc, albeit briefly. For several years McLaughlin also had a stock company for summertime shows at reduced prices in the Ohio. Generally the Ohio played Klaw & Erlanger attractions in it's early years.  Abe Erlanger got his start in the biz, selling peanuts at the Euclid Avenue Opera House just a few blocks down the street.
Front and back of program cover, week of April 11, 1921. These covers were generic, the same design was used for several years.
 The Tavern, from The Plain Dealer, April 24, 1921.
From The Plain Dealer, May 1, 1921. The Euclid Avenue Opera House was long Cleveland's premiere legit house, it was razed in May 1922. The Tavern was George M. Cohan's favorite show. Although he didn't appear in this production, he often revived the show playing the vagrant, both on B'way and on the road.
 From The Plain Dealer, July 3, 1921.
 From The Plain Dealer, September 4, 1921.
 From The Plain Dealer, October 16, 1921.
  From The Plain Dealer, February 12, 1922. Shubert Vaude was a short lived scheme by Lee and Jake Shubert to compete with B.F. Keith, it didn't work out too well for them. Shubert Vaude also played some weeks down the street at the Euclid Avenue Opera House during the 1921-22 season. The following year it moved next door to Loew's State where it barely made it through the 1922-23 season. After that Lee and Jake did what they did best, run B'way theatres.
 There weren't many bigger names than Eddie Cantor in the 20's.  From The Plain Dealer, April 2, 1922.
Clara Scott, one of the stars of George White's Scandals,  From The Plain Dealer, March 22, 1925.
From The Plain Dealer, March 22, 1925. George Whites Scandals were revues along the lines of the Ziegfield Follies, the various Hitchy Koos and Music Box Revues of the era.
 From The Plain Dealer, September 2, 1926. Pictures were starting to make forays into legit houses as the 1920's wore on.
From Motion Picture News, November 6, 1926. In 1960 a newer version of Ben Hur would run for almost a year at the Ohio.
The Marx Brothers in their hit show, which was later made into a film. From The Plain Dealer, February 27, 1927.
From The Plain Dealer, January 1, 1933.
From The Plain Dealer, July 27,1934. This was the waning era of the Ohio as a legit house.
Ohio Theatre, side boxes, 1935, Theatre Historical Society photo, from Marquee Magazine, Vol.6-No.4, Fourth Quarter, 1974. This was right before the transformation into the Mayfair Casino.

The Ohio was turned into the Mayfair Casino in late 1935. opening with much fanfare on October 22. Basically the Mayfair was an art moderne shell constructed inside the theatre which was transformed into a high end supper club, boasting the longest bar in the state of Ohio in the lobby. One of the principles was Harry Propper who earlier ran the Carlton Terrace on the second floor of the Loew Building. At one point, around early 1924, Sophie Tucker invested $15,000 into the Carlton, which was then renamed Tucker's Terrace.  It soon went bankrupt, forcing Miss Tucker to cancel a week at the Palace in October 1924 to avoid creditors and process servers.  The second floor of the Loew Building would later house the Music Box nightclub, a Stage Door Canteen during the war and eventually an Arthur Murray dance studio.
Mayfair Casino postcard, from the Cleveland Memory Project.
Main bar in the main lobby, from Architectural Forum, October, 1936/Playhouse Square Archives.
Bar in the lobby, from the Cleveland Memory Project.
Sky Bar on the mezzanine, from Architectural Forum, October, 1936/Playhouse Square Archives.
View of the auditorium from the stage, from Architectural Forum, October, 1936/Playhouse Square Archives.
From Variety, September 4, 1935. The opening of the Mayfair would spark a brief nightclub war with the nearby Alpine Village, which was Herman Pirchner's long running night spot at 1614 Euclid Avenue, directly across from the Palace. They both opened around the same time, with the Alpine lasting into the early 1960's.
From The Plain Dealer, October 20, 1935.
 From The Plain Dealer, October 23, 1935.
From The Plain Dealer, November 3, 1935.
From The Plain Dealer, December 16, 1935.
 From The Plain Dealer, January 26, 1936.
From Variety, February 5, 1936.
From Variety, May 20, 1936.
From The Plain Dealer, May 25, 1936.
From Variety, May 27, 1936.
From Variety, July 1, 1936.
From Variety, July 1, 1936.
 From Variety, August 12, 1936.
From Variety, December 23, 1936.
From The Plain Dealer, February 24, 1937.
 From Variety, September 29, 1937.
Blurb referencing rowdy customers at the Mayfair, from Variety, October 13, 1937. Some other interesting tid-bits in here as well.
From The Plain Dealer, November 19, 1937.
The end came rather quickly, with the Mayfair abruptly closing in early December 1937.
 From The Plain Dealer, December 12, 1937.
Glenn Pullen's column from The Plain Dealer, December 19, 1937.
Something of a footnote to the Mayfair era, Harry Propper obit, from Variety, November 15, 1939.

The Ohio would sit mostly dark for the next several years. The only event I'm aware of that took place during this period of darkness was the freak show in 1940. During the early years of the war the front lobby was used as a Coast Guard recruiting station until sometime in early 1943.
 From The Plain Dealer, February 16, 1940.
From Variety, February 7, 1940.
From Variety, October 30, 1940. Not much interest was shown in the Ohio, the few offers were dubious at best.
Blurb from Variety, September 10, 1941.
The once grand stairs, circa early 1943, Theatre Historical Society photo.
The box seats around the beginning of the 1943 renovation. Theatre Historical Society photo, from Marquee Magazine, Theatre Historical Society photo, from Marquee Magazine, Vol.6-No.4, Fourth Quarter, 1974.

With the war years downtown houses enjoyed a huge increase in business, people had money and not too many places to spend it. By the summer of 1943 word started leaking out that the Ohio would re-open. The reconstruction was overseen by Cecil Ryder who was in charge of Loew's buildings. One of his main problems was finding material during the war, especially copper wire.
 The Ohio wasn't actually dark for ten years, maybe it just seemed that way. From Showmen's Trade Review, July 17, 1943.
The newly refurbished lobby of Loew's Ohio, 1943, note the new carpet, Theatre Historical Society photo.
Mezzanine, looking towards the house left side (west) the curtains on the left led to the top of the grand stairs, the door in the middle to the Lady's Lounge, and the pair of doors on the right to the balcony, Theatre Historical Society photo.
New false boxes, 1943, from Marquee Magazine, Theatre Historical Society photo, from Marquee Magazine, Vol.6-No.4, Fourth Quarter, 1974. 
Auditorium, 1943, Theatre Historical Society photo.
From Showmen's Trade Review, August 28, 1943.
From Box Office, September 4, 1943.
From Motion Picture Herald, October 16, 1943.
From The Plain Dealer, September 23, 1943.
From Motion Picture Daily, September 29, 1943.
From Variety, October 6, 1943.
From Box Office, October 9, 1943.
From Box Office, November 13, 1943.
Mrs. Tracy had a great flair for publicity, from Motion Picture Herald, December 25, 1943.
From Motion Picture Herald, February 26, 1944.
 From Motion Picture Herald, February 26, 1944.
Flash front, from Motion Picture Herald, September 2, 1944.
Turret gun from a B-17, from Motion Picture Herald, November 11, 1944.
6th War Bond sale, December 1944. Note the usherettes dressed in costumes to promote the current feature Brazil. Photo from the Playhouse Square Archives.
From Motion Picture Herald, December 30, 1944.
From Box Office, October 13, 1945.
 From Box Office, March 9, 1946.
Corner of a flash front for God's Country, from Showmen's Trade Review, August 31, 1946.
New manager for Loew's Ohio, from Showmen's Trade Review, November 16, 1946. Mrs. Tracy would go on to manage theatres in Detroit before returning to Cleveland where she later managed the Knickerbocker and the Parma.
 From The Plain Dealer, April 23, 1954.
From The Plain Dealer, October 7, 1955.
From Box Office, November 3, 1956. 
From The Plain Dealer, November 30, 1956. The Ten Commandments was one of the earlier hard ticket attractions to play Loew's Ohio, and would run for 29 weeks.
From Box Office, December 15, 1956.
From Box Office, February 3, 1957.
From Box Office, May 18, 1957. Mike Todd had trouble convincing theatre owners to install his new Todd-AO process, especially following the disastrous 3-D flop of 1953, and the far more successful, but still somewhat expensive CinemaScope installation of a couple years earlier.  So Todd four-walled the pic, making Loew's Ohio the first theatre in Cleveland to run 70mm pix.
From Box Office, June 22, 1957.
From The Plain Dealer, June 20, 1957. 80 Days would run for 41 weeks.
From Box Office, August 17, 1957.
From Box Office, September 7, 1957.
From The Plain Dealer, March 28, 1958. South Pacific ran for 46 weeks.
From Box Office, April 14, 1958.
DP-70s with Super Cinex lamps, from International Projectionist, July 1959. This was the gold standard in projection in the late 50's - early 60's. Loew's Ohio had a pair in the booth, as did the Allen and the Palace. Not sure what they ran in Loew's State, but it might have been these as well.

Sometime in the few weeks prior to the opening of Ben Hur, the Ohio was refurbished, some new seats were added and the capacity was cut from 1,295 to 1,024.
From The Plain Dealer, January 31, 1960. (I'm not 100% sure, but I believe Ben Hur ran for 47 weeks)
From Box Office, February 1, 1960.
From Box Office, June 19, 1961. Frank Arena was one of two Loew Era employees I've met. In April 1976, Jed Ellis and I went to see Shea's Buffalo. The people there spoke highly of Mr. Arena, and it turned out he was managing Loew's Teck, just down the street. We must have talked to him for a couple hours that night. He was pleased when we told him of the restoration efforts in Cleveland.
  From The Plain Dealer, August 11, 1961.
 From The Plain Dealer, December 29, 1961.
 From The Plain Dealer, April 6, 1962.
 From The Plain Dealer, August 10, 1962.
From Box Office, July 22, 1963.
 From The Plain Dealer, November 22, 1963, Cleopatra ran for 26 weeks.
From The Plain Dealer, July 4, 1964. Early on the morning of  Sunday, July 5, 1964, a fire erupted in the candy stand, the Grand Lobby was destroyed.

From The Plain Dealer, July 6, 1964. 
From Box Office, July 13, 1964.
The lobby was subsequently gutted and rebuilt after much hand wringing. More on the disastrous fire can be found here.
From The Plain Dealer, July 15, 1964. I'm not sure how seriously this was debated. If the idea was to circumvent the destroyed lobby, it simply wouldn't work since the lobbies end up at two different elevations.
From The Plain Dealer, August 22, 1964. The October re-opening was overly optimistic.
From The Plain Dealer, December 24, 1964. The Ohio re-opened on Christmas Day with Mary Poppins and a new modern lobby.
From The Plain Dealer, March 24, 1965. The Sound of Music would run for 91 weeks and two days, a Cleveland long run record that still stands.
From Box Office, March 28, 1966. The pix mentioned in this article all ran at Loew's Ohio, with the exception of My Fair Lady, which ran at the Stanley Warner Colony, at Shaker Square.
Variety, April 26, 1966.
From The Plain Dealer, January 1, 1967. I remember seeing this at Loew's Ohio when I was a kid, who would have thought a little over five years later I'd be working to help save this theatre.
 From The Plain Dealer, April 26, 1968. Special preview screening of Star!
From Box Office, May 13, 1968. One wonders if Mr. Marsh saw the same picture we did. It had some enjoyable moments, but was insufferably long and had too many new songs written especially for the film, and didn't seem to go anywhere. 
From Box Office, October 7, 1968.
From The Plain Dealer, December 20, 1968.
Final notice, from The Plain Dealer, February 9, 1969. Both the Ohio and neighboring Loew's State closed on the same day.
From Box Office, February 17, 1969.

In the weeks following the closing, both Loew's Ohio and State would be stripped of furnishings. Loew's sold the theatres to Millcap Corporation and Halles. Each had a 50% share. Millcap owned the neighboring Buckley Building which housed the Allen. There was a rumor that Halles wanted to reopen the Ohio for films, I have no idea if this was true or not. There was also a story that floated around that for an extra $10,000 they could have had both theatres intact, no idea if that was true either. However both theatres would start to disintegrate over the next several years.
Loew's Ohio and State, circa 1972, Plain Dealer photo.
 Mary Hirschfeld column, from the Plain Dealer, February 5, 1971. Not everyone thought the theatres should remain dark or be torn down for more parking lots. As 1971 wore on Ray Shepardson and a small group of people started gaining a little momentum towards the goal of saving the theatres. On November 21, 1971 the Playhouse Square Association would stage it's first show, the Budapest Symphony Orchestra in the neighboring Allen Theatre. Some information of the early Playhouse Square Association productions can be found here.
The future wasn't all that bright for the future of the two Loew houses in May 1972. From The Plain Dealer, May 25, 1972.

Of the four theatres, the Ohio was in the worst shape. Like the neighboring State, it had been stripped of fixtures and most of the seats. The Ohio had several significant roof leaks, the largest was a giant hole where the roof above the house left organ loft had caved in. The other in the  back corner of the auditorium, house left side. There were several other ones as well, but those were the two biggest ones. The first summer I worked there, 1972, Ralph Smith ("Smitty"), and I spent several weeks boxing in the hole and trying to patch up leaks in both Loew houses. While we could never totally stop the leakage on the 17-18 year old roofs, we were able to slow them down considerably. In mid August 1972, after a rain storm, a section of the Ohio marquee soffit fell onto the sidewalk one afternoon. This incident made the Cleveland Press the following afternoon. This precipitated a call from Loew's district manager Herb Brown to Millcap Corp. asking why their name was still on those buildings. A few days afterwards Smitty and I were out there removing the word "Loew's" from each of the marquees, painting them over with the cheapest green paint we could find.
 The Ohio auditorium, 1975, photo by William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc. The seats on the main floor in this photo were the ones from the Palace that were removed in 1973. The organ loft referred to earlier is behind the top curtain on the right. The stairwell that goes down behind the false box was piled high with wet plaster from the ceiling, by the time we started working there it was almost like mud. I spent the week after Christmas 1972 in here with Smitty and Dennis Wilde (sp?) clearing debris and trash from the theatre. We piled it along the stage left/house right side. Kay's Light Hauling made several trips hauling the debris away. We kept anything that seemed like it could be useful. That was also when Nick Spontelli showed up. Nick was 73 and had been a stationary engineer for Loews from 1924 until the 1969 closing. He was only around for a year, but his help was invaluable, he knew those places like the back of his hand, how the heating system worked, every valve and water line, what they did and where they went. Without Nick things would have taken a lot longer to figure out.
House left/stage right corner of the main floor, 1975, photo by William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc. One night in late January 1973, I was sitting in the box office eating a Royal Castle hamburg when two policemen came in. They asked about what was going on and I told them about the project and what we were trying to do here. They asked if they could take a look around and I said "sure, go ahead." A few minutes later they returned and said "you should do something about that leak." I was like "what leak?" They left and I went to investigate. The pipe in that cabinet (to the right of the exit door, behind the pillar) had frozen and split, water was shooting from there across the auditorium. Neither Smitty nor Ray was around that night. We had just moved our offices from the Allen to 810 Keith Building, so I ran down the street and was able to get Ceil Hartman. After much running back and forth, Ceil called the fire department and explained the situation, they sent a bunch of trucks, causing a great commotion. Ceil had to sign a release, and they shut off the water, but by then more damage had occurred, note the buckled floor and the loss of more plasterwork.
The other main thing we did in the Ohio during that time, January-February, 1973, was the conversion of the mezzanine offices into an apartment for Smitty, which probably took two to three weeks. We also removed the picture screen, which was bolted to the stage floor, and had a giant hole cut in it on the house right side. By early March our efforts shifted to the State, then to the production of Brel in the lobby of the State. For the rest of the 1970's the Ohio sat vacant, used mostly for storage, we would battle roof leaks in here constantly. The Ohio was never heated during this time, because of the huge expense, the roof drains would freeze, causing flooding issues during the spring thaw. To combat this we would take turns going up onto the roof with a sump pump, draining the water off into the alley below. The pump had to be constantly monitored, lest it get clogged with ice chunks. During those brutal winters of the late 70's we would all be up there, Todd Reeves, Jed Ellis, Paul Clement, Bob Tilly and myself, all taking turns, standing in ankle deep ice water, watching the pump.

There were a couple minor things that happened in the Ohio during this time, one was a local rock group, either Circus or Rainbow Canyon, used the lobby to rehearse for around a week. That was either in the summer of 1973 or '74, not sure which. During the spring of 1974 famed local attorney Ken Seminatore used the outer lobby as a campaign headquarters. I forget which office he was running for at the time. In late 1975 a large hole was cut in the lobby floor.  It allowed excavation of what became Kennedy's back room in the basement of the State, the former Mr. Ryder's Shop/usherettes dressing room area. Other than these few instances, not much else happened, the Ohio sat dark and silent, with the occasional sounds of footsteps.
Grand stairs, circa 1980, photo from the Playhouse Square Archives. This is the remains of the red 1964 lobby that replaced the original lobby that was destroyed in the July 5, 1964 fire. The formally white marble stairs were blackened in the fire. Those steps, and a few fragments of plaster was all that was left. Sometimes when it rained, a soggy ceiling tile would splat onto the floor.

But better days were ahead.
Ohio lobby construction, 1982, photo from the Playhouse Square Archives.
Quite the transformation in the auditorium, photo from a 1984 Ohio Ballet program.
The 1982 grand stairs, designed by Peter van Dijk of Dalton, van Dijk, Johnson & Partners. Photo from the Playhouse Square Archives.
In 1982, the Ohio was transformed into the new home of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival. The Ohio Ballet would also use the Ohio as well. 
From The Plain Dealer, February 2, 1982.
Program cover, 1982.
Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival ticket brochure, 1982.
 Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival brochure, 1983.
Ohio Ballet ticket stubs, May 6, 1984. This was the first of two times I was in the Ohio following the 1982 renovations. (I worked at Playhouse Square, March 1972 - January 1980, then went to the RKO Palace in Columbus Ohio).
Ohio Ballet Program, 1984-85.

As remarkable as the 1982 comeback was, even greater things are in store. As this is being written, work is progressing on recreating the original 1921 Grand Lobby! 
The 1964 red lobby was always a sore point with us.  Loew's Inc. did what they had to do in the aftermath of the fire to get back in business asap.  Back in the 70's we always talked about how it would be great if... the lobby could be restored to it's 1921 appearance, especially if the Sampriotti murals could be replicated. This is now happening, and should be completed by the beginning of summer this year.
 A fragment from the original lobby, Photo from Playhouse Square.
Workers from EverGreene Architectural Arts attaching plaster details to the new main lobby ceiling. Photo from Playhouse Square.
Workers from EverGreene Architectural Arts working on the New Grand Lobby ceiling, photo from Playhouse Square.
What's old is new again.  Once completed, the lobby should look pretty similar to what it did in 1921. Theatre Historical Society photo.

Special thanks to Ruth Flannery, Tom Einhouse, Cindi Szymanski, and Tom Rathburn at Playhouse Square for their invaluable help with this post, and for keeping the theatres running.
And to the Media History Digital Library where most of the archival material is from. 

A special shout out to Ray Shepardson, Ceil Hartman, Ralph Smith - Smitty, Dennis Wilde (sp?), Nick Spontelli, Rick Trela, Todd Reeves, Todd Bemis, Chuck Sudetic, Jed Ellis, Tom Kalish, Paul Clement, Bob Tilly, Chuck Fleming, Tom Bindernagel, Bob Bindernagel, and the others I worked with back in the 1970's, helping to keep these theatres standing, may God bless them, wherever they may be.

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