I haven’t been in any of the theatres in 30 years, so a lot of changes were in store for us on our visit in June. Some of the biggest changes were at the Allen. The Cleveland Playhouse has moved into the space from its former home at 86th & Euclid. Basically the Allen has been transformed from a 3,000 seat theatre into a 500 seat one. The balcony has been sealed off and a new smaller balcony built in front of the original one. The Allen had a major restoration in 1998, evidence of this abounds. The Rotunda looks better than ever, and the real balcony has new seats, albeit unused at the present time. The projection room had been painted since I was last up there in the late 70’s, but the back room (the screening room where Phil Spitalny once scored films in 1921) seemed much smaller than I remembered. Back down on the mezzanine the two lights that were destroyed at the Uriah Heep concert on July 28, 1972 have been restored. The elliptical dome area has been floored over. My old office there now has a partition between the two small rooms that made up that space. The old stagehouse has been replaced with a larger one, which also houses a couple small experimental theatres. Out front the original marquee, hidden since about 1940 has been restored. All in all the Allen isn’t quite what I remembered, once you leave the lobby spaces. An overview of the Allen's history is here.
Ohio Theatre marquee.
Next door at Loew’s Ohio, the outer lobby now houses a small restaurant, and you enter from neighboring Loew’s State. One of the better changes is the grand lobby of the Ohio. This lobby was destroyed by a candy stand fire on the morning of July 5, 1964, was subsequently demolished, then replaced by a modern lobby. That lobby was in turn replaced by a somewhat more tasteful lobby for the 1982 reopening. That lobby still wasn’t a good fit architecturally with the rest of the buildings. This was remedied last year by a major construction project that recreated the original 1921 lobby, murals and all. What’s interesting is that it looks old, but doesn’t feel old, just like when these theatres first opened. It’s truly a stunning space, a far cry from the musty leaky space that was there in the 1970’s; with water sodden ceiling tiles splatting on the floor. The auditorium has a nice color scheme, much better than the red spray job used to cover up the smoke damage Loew’s applied in 1964. The basement under the stage is almost spotless, although the old Mayfair stairs that were floored over in 1943 seem to be gone now. (The Ohio was converted into a high end supper club in 1935, the Mayfair Casino, which went bankrupt in 1937. The Ohio sat dark before becoming a picture house in 1943). Up on the mezzanine the restrooms switched for some reason. What was the ladies room is now the men’s room. That room used to have the ceiling on the floor, but the ceiling light still worked for some reason, although if you turned it on you’d get a shock if you touched the wall anytime after a heavy rain. Now the room is bright and clean. The old mezzanine men’s room is now the ladies room. The old smoking lounge has been closed off, as has the fire escape in the rest room. The stage is clean and dry, no pool of water stage left like there once was. We didn’t take the time to check out the dressing rooms or the projection room in the Ohio, so maybe next time. An overview of the history of Loew's Ohio is here.
State Theatre marquee.
Plaque commerating the opening of Brel.
Adjacent to Loew’s Ohio is Loew’s State, with its huge lobby and massive auditorium. The State is a far cry from when I first went in there in April 1972. Back then both Loew houses were under threat of imminent demolition. The State was musty, and dusty, with a few roof leaks. A plaque on the floor of the Grand Lobby marks the location of the stage we built for the Brel production back in the spring of 1973. That production is now known as the “show that saved the theatres.” The auditorium has been repainted in a lighter scheme. When we first got there, the auditorium ceiling was a very dark purple, except for the dome. This was later changed to a brownish scheme with work by Rick Trela, Tom and Bob Bindernagle. The Cinerama booth is long gone; the rows of seating that were chopped out of the front of the balcony to accommodate the Cinerama installation have been replaced. The side boxes that were removed for the massive Cinerama screen have been restored. The projection room is neat and clean, spotlights are now in place where projectors once stood (the projection equipment was removed after the State closed on February 9, 1969). I would sometimes sit up there when we did El Grande De Coca Cola on a stage in front of the real stage back in the summer of 1975. There is a great view from up there. A new stage house has replaced the original stage and dressing rooms. The new stage is much larger than the original, although we didn’t explore that area, or the basement under it, maybe next time. An overview of Loew's State is here.
Grand Lobby of the Palace, looking west.
Grand lobby of the Palace looking north towards the famous blue urn.
Palace side boxes.
Last but not least we came to the RKO Palace which E. F. Albee once boasted was the “world’s most magnificent playhouse,” upon its opening on November 6, 1922. The Palace was one of the last major straight vaudeville houses built in the U.S., and is the newest of the four theatres. The lobby is as spectacular as ever. The huge chandeliers now have LED lighting, which makes relamping less frequent. It was always a huge hassle to lower those five chandeliers for cleaning and relamping. (The one at the far eastern end had a windlass that was a bit too close to a concrete beam. That meant whoever was lowering it would continually bash their hand into the beam while lowering the chandelier, all of us spilt our blood up there). More restroom space has been added in several places. The ladies lounge now is connected to the lobby of Loew’s State, and the entrance to the ladies is off the men’s lounge. There is an entrance to the Presidents Club on the second floor of the Loew Building from the Palace mezzanine. The mezzanine has been carpeted on all four sides and the ladies room has also been expanded, again the entrance was moved to what was the men’s lounge. Generally the seating capacity in all the ladies rooms has been expanded in all the theatres. The auditorium has also been reseated. The boxes that were removed for the Cinerama installation have been restored. The projection room has been repainted and spotlights are up there now. The back room where I once lived (1974) is mostly used for storage. The Master Brenograph and the two spotlights are still there, although no longer intact as they were 40 years ago. I wonder what happened to the pair of Super Simplex projectors that were up there? They were some of the finest projectors ever made, real workhorses. Backstage the elevator to the dressing rooms is now functional. Up on the seventh (top) floor the California room and kitchen are in use, a far cry from 40 years ago, when part of the ceiling was on the floor. Downstairs, off the stage the Green Room and neighboring chorus room are in much better shape. The chorus room is at the bottom of a light shaft, and has a skylight above it. When we first occupied the Palace, the top wall on the dressing room tower was starting to disintegrate, with bricks crashing through the skylight, leaving lots of water damage. This has all been restored. We didn’t go to the other side, where the barber shop and billiard room was, maybe next time. More info on the Palace can be found here.
There isn't an inch of those places that doesn't conjure up some distant memory, from Russel and I welcoming people to Brel, to where water puddled on the stage of the Ohio, to Ray and I ambushing each other with crumpled Pepsi cups in the Allen. Some of it seems like it was only yesterday.
Overall the general difference is that everything is cleaner, and better organized. There’s a lot more people there now. There wasn’t anywhere we went that didn’t have some type of activity going on. It was good to see the theatres all being used; it was always a treat back then to see people pouring through the entrance before a show. Another big difference is the crowds outside. I remember a time when that stretch of Euclid Avenue was a virtual ghost town. One Friday night during the summer of 1972 I recall Victor Dominic and one of his employees playing catch in front of the Loew Building, the street was that deserted. (Victor Dominic was the manager of the Arthur Murray dance studio on the second floor of the Loew Building). Another thing is the buildings are more integrated than they were. Almost by happenstance these four theatres were built almost adjacent to each other, and now it’s one of the largest performing arts centers in the country. The area that had bottomed out in 1971-72 is now quite vibrant and alive, and people kept saying back then that "no one is going to go down there anymore."