Sunday, April 30, 2023

Roaring Brook

 Roaring Brook, looking downstream from near Myrtle Street, May 12, 2013.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Colgate Court

 Looking west on Colgate Court, a west side alleyway, from about the 6500 block.

Philadelphia Suburban 76

 Philadelphia Suburban 76 heading south after passing under the Spruce Street Complex, May 4, 2013. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

My Friends Restaurant

 We stopped by My Friends Restaurant, 11616 Detroit Avenue a couple weeks ago, great place, open 24 hours as well!

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Edgewater Cove

 The Edgewater Cove Apartments at the corner of Edgewater & Cove.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

West 25th & Clark

 Passed through here the other day, quite a bit different from when I was a kid, but St. Michael's still looms in the distance, Clark Avenue looking east.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Mistake By The Lake Records

 We stopped by Mistake By The Lake Records, 6502 Lorain Avenue on Cleveland's West Side on Saturday. This is a pretty cool place, small, but lots of records and some equipment, well worth a visit.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Cool World

 We stopped by Cool World, 6511 Detroit Avenue in the Gorden Square Arts District on Saturday. It really is a Cool World in there, lots of interesting artwork and knick-knacks, we'll be back again soon.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Wilbert Road

 Looking north on Wilbert Road a couple weeks ago.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Observation Car

 A Susquehanna Railroad observation car, Steamtown Yard, June 1998.

Friday, April 21, 2023

4th & Euclid

 4th & Euclid looking west, from last month.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Lake Erie Motel

 The former Lake Erie Motel on Superior Avenue, a rather notorious reputation years ago.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023


 The Old Arcade from a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Fifty Years: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Fifty Years: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Original 1973 flyer, from the Playhouse Square Archives.

A half century has passed, but I can still hear the excitement in Ray's voice that chilly March evening in Loew's State Theatre. Ray was quite animated as he moved across the huge lobby space, "...the stage will be here, tables, there, buffet, out there..." It was a daring reimagination of the space; patrons would park free in the Playhouse Square Garage on 17th, walk directly across the street and enter through exit doors at the back of the State Theatre auditorium, then upstairs to the reservation desk on the mezzanine. From there patrons would linger over cocktails at the top of the grand stairs, then descend to the Grand Lobby to be seated for the buffet, and then finally the show.
Back of flyer, from the Playhouse Square Archives.

Loew's State Theatre was a rather bleak place in early 1973, basically a shell of a theatre, no seats in the auditorium or usable fire escapes, the roof leaked in places, despite our efforts, and no plumbing or electric fixtures. But at least the heat worked, and the lobby was pretty much intact, except for the chandeliers, and no major water damage in the lobby. We had taken down the massive Cinerama screen around late February, stacking the sections on the stage, but hadn't done much else yet, having spent January and part of February working on Smitty's place in the Ohio. Back in the State, the rear corner of the auditorium (house right), where patrons would enter, was a mess. A roof leak above had caused some damage, but the most serious damage was done when CEI cut the steam line into the building prior to the anticipated demolition of the State and Ohio Theatres. Raw steam pouring into that corner for a couple of weeks caused some major plaster damage. I ended up chopping out all the rotted plaster off those walls, down to the brick. The rear wall in that corner was ruined, the carpet in that area was also rotted away, that was removed, and we painted the wooden floor maroon. Much work would be needed to be done to transform the long dormant Loew's State Theatre into the Playhouse Square Cabaret.
From the Plain Dealer, March 8, 1973.
Ray & Ceil on the mezzanine of Loew's State, from CSU Alumnus, Winter 1974.

We started the first week of March.  Ralph Smith - "Smitty," Dennis Wild(sp) and myself, aided by the semi-regular volunteers, Ken Plocica- "Poe," Kevin McAndrew, and Chuck Fleming, who were hired at least temporarily, and a little later Pete Webber, and my friend Russ Richards. Most important was Nick Spontelli, the retired Loew's engineer, who'd been instrumental with getting the heating system up and running. I was there every day after school and all day on Saturdays and Sundays, probably working around fifty hours a week, I was 15 turning 16 at this point. There were also a couple people who didn't last more than a week whose names are now forgotten, including the guy that lost all the brass bolts to the lobby wall sconces.

From the Plain Dealer April 19, 1973. The top right photo shows David Eisele repairing water damage on the inner lobby ceiling. Five years later I would seriously injure my back averting a repeat of that damage by moving barrels of water during a heavy downpour four floors above while the roof was being replaced.

The huge lobby soon echoed with a cacophony of sound. Kevin and Poe cleaned off the brass railings on the grand stairs, while Smitty and Dennis and I cleaned out and re-lamped the cove lights near the lobby ceiling, skipping every other bulb to economize. We also found a dead mouse, electrocuted when he chewed through wires years earlier. There were also a bunch of bow ties, which were theorized to have come from fired ushers, but who really knows. Plumbers came in and got the restrooms operational. I worked on stripping and rewiring wall sconces in the front lobby as well as helping Smitty and Dennis build the stage. Smitty met with director Joe Garry and came up with a stage design, Smitty making a model out of cardboard and drinking straws. The Brel stage was constructed mostly with materials on hand, and a little new lumber. The front of the Brel stage was speaker platforms from behind the recently dismantled Cinerama screen, the sides and rear of the stage were supported by Cinerama screen framework, as was the back platform, which was left over from Trans-Generation 70, a Cleveland Playhouse benefit held January 23, 1970, the last prior event. I remember hammering the last parts of the stage together with Smitty on a frigid Sunday morning at the end of March. Smitty (Ralph D. Smith), was a Navy veteran and a skilled handyman who could build/fix almost anything. He was working 10-12 hour-days during this six-week run-up to the opening. The former LaMar's Restaurant space was turned into a kitchen/storage area under the supervision of Paul Hom, who had been handling catering for other events in the theatres since the Tennis Party in the Allen the previous summer. 

Once the stage was complete, rehearsals began, probably on Monday, April 2nd. The songs that we'd remember forever, “Marathon”, “Marieke”, “Carousel”, would echo through the huge lobby as work went on. By early April, Russ and I were stripping black paint off the marble baseboards in the inner lobby, where we would later have the buffet set up. David Eisele, who had recently painted the Last Moving Picture Company down the street, was hired to paint the inner lobby walls and patch and paint the one bad section of plaster ceiling in the lobbies. At some point the ugliest orange carpet anyone had ever seen was laid in the seating area. On a Saturday, most likely April 7th, we started moving in tables and chairs from the recently closed Black Angus Restaurant at 14th & Euclid. Poe using his van to make numerous trips between the Angus and the State. The chandeliers from the Commodore Perry Hotel in Toledo arrived on Sunday, April 8th, and were soon hoisted into place by Smitty and Dennis.

A dispute arose with IATSE 27 over who and how many personnel would be used to run lights/sound. We had quite the contentious relationship with Junior Short since the Budapest concert in the Allen, when Smitty enlarged the stage for a fraction of the cost of a dozen stagehands. In the end, Jack Lynch ran the lights for the first few weeks, then another IATSE guy, Tom Dineen I think, then Chuck Fleming, and later Bob Rody. The lights all came from L&M Stagecraft, which Lynch ran with Angus MacDougal. MacDougal's son Dave would later do lights/sound for Coca-Cola. Smitty originally did the sound on a board he designed that was quickly replaced a week later by another short-lived system. There was easily a half dozen systems before a decent one was found. Within a week or two light/sound was combined into one job.

Other things were also going on, Ray & Ceil got married on Thursday, March 22nd. We helped them move from the Chesterfield into Park Centre on a Saturday either right before or after. They moved back the following August. The authorized concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar was at the Allen, Tuesday April 3rd through Sunday April 8th. This was the last event the Playhouse Square Association would manage at the Allen, after that MillCap, the Bulkley Building owners, operated the Allen (and a poor job they did). There was also a private party in the Palace on Saturday, April 7th, I remember taking Wanda Wice, one of the Allen usherettes to it as part of a tour I gave her. There was a constant stream of activity at this point.

Sign above the 17th Street entrance, William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc. For a very brief time, maybe a week or so, there was a banner reading "Brel is Back", made by Rick Trela for the CSU performances in January, that stretched from the top fire escape down to a piece of angle iron Smitty had bolted to the side of the building. The banner was pretty much getting ripped apart by the wind, and the angle iron fared no better, twisted from the wind.

Ray Shepardson at the opening, Wednesday April 18, 1973, Frank Reed photo, from the Cleveland Memory Project.
Patrons would enter through the middle exit door in the distance. William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc.
Patrons came up the stairs to the reservation desk, out of view on the right. The Brel dressing room was the mezzanine lady's room. William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc.

Soon opening day arrived, Wednesday, April 18th, which was actually the first of two previews with the formal opening scheduled for the 20th. My friend Russ and I had skipped school that day, helping to hoist a chandelier into place at the back of the State auditorium where it would help illuminate the mezzanine. Patrons would park for free in the Playhouse Square garage and enter through the back of the auditorium, go upstairs to the left to the reservation desk, run by Ceil at first, then later by others, including Patricia Hearn, then to the bar at the top of the grand stairs for pre-show cocktails, before heading down to the lobby for a buffet and the show. At the back of the auditorium, we assembled coat check racks out of the ever-popular Cinerama screen framework. As things developed that day, the coat check got dumped on me and Russ, no one wanted to be stuck back there. I can also vividly recall running a mop across the floor as some of the first patrons arrived. However, we were caught unawares, Ray papered the house with Cleveland Public School English teachers. Among the first arrivals was our English teacher, Mr. Mello, who asked “why weren’t you guys in class today?” Russell and I feebly responded “uh, we were sick.” (Decades later I'd hear the same excuses when I was an adjunct instructor and could only smile) Soon the show went on.

William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc.

From the Plain Dealer April 19, 1973.

Director Joseph Garry's magnificent cast, Terry Piteo, Cliff Bemis, David O. Frazier and Providence Hollander, along with musical director David Gooding, received a rousing ovation at the end of the show, the reviews were all overwhelmingly positive, quite a great night. I don't think anyone thought this would run for more than a month or so, then we'd come up with a new show for the fall, however something magical was happening, I don't know what it was but this cast in this place at this time struck a chord with Clevelanders as performances started selling out days in advance, then weeks in advance as the show became a runaway hit. The theatre that was scheduled to be razed a year earlier because "nobody is going to go there anymore" was suddenly the hottest spot in town. Soon some of the empty storefronts began to fill, as Playhouse Square was slowly pulled back from the edge of extinction. The impact of this show cannot be overstated, people started coming back downtown again, something few thought possible a year earlier.

From The Cleveland Press, April 26, 1973.
From The Cleveland Press, April 19, 1973.
From the Plain Dealer April 23, 1973.
From Don Robertson, WKYC-TV 3, April 24, 1973.
From The Plain Dealer Action Tab, June 1, 1973.

 Pete Weber only lasted a week or so as greeter, then Russ and I became the first people patrons would see, "upstairs to the left..." we'd say. During the heating season I would monitor lobby temperature and would have to go and turn the main steam valve on and off several times a night. To reach this, one had to go backstage into the basement, and crawl through a grimy tunnel under the auditorium to where the valve was, directly under the house right corner of the auditorium, or under the Cabaret entrance, "watch your head." Weekends and during the summer I'd help set up the tables for that evening's performance, depending on the reservations every night the seating arrangement differed slightly.  Repeat customers would be given VIP seating. The problem came soon as people came again and again, often bringing groups of friends along, and everybody was a VIP.  It sometimes became a dilemma how to seat familiar names. Once the tables were arranged, usually supervised by Ray and assisted by Donna Drozda (who would also oversee things when Ray wasn't there), Mrs. Garbach, and later Weldon Carpenter and Sue McKeon, a seating plan would be drawn up.  Usually, Russ or I would then be sent over to the CSU library with a handful of dimes to make copies. The aisles were often tight, the wait staff always complained, but Ray always would say "They'll be happy just to be here." On dark days, Monday and Tuesdays, we'd do other sorts of work, hose down 17th Street, work on the roofs in the summer, slowly clean out other parts of the theatre, and later work in the Palace as well. We did a lot of work for very little money, for a long time I was on a $25 a week salary. 

From The Plain Dealer Action Tab, June 1, 1973. I remember how we all waited for this after a Thursday night show, someone went out and brought back a bunch of bulldogs so we could have an early look. Ray took one look at the cover and made a few choice wisecracks.

Early on a rotating group would stay overnight and clean up. Chuck Fleming and Pete Weber were alternating, two maybe three nights on, then back on days for a bit, then nights. After a few weeks of this they both complained that the schedule was wreaking havoc with them. Eventually Frank Darry was hired to be the night watchman.  A couple ladies, Flo and Helen, were then hired to clean up after the shows. For about six months Flemo lived in the mezzanine men's room, for a while there were competing "bachelor pads" with Smitty's place just a flight up the outside fire escapes. I was a little too young to be involved in such goings on, but I'm sure there's a few dozen Cleveland girls that might have details.

As the weeks started selling out in advance, a problem loomed, summer, there was no working air-conditioning. We ended up going dark June 24th, revamping the operation a little, and installing a new $30,000 air conditioning unit on the State Theatre lobby roof before reopening Friday, July 6th. A few weeks after this we cut the opening into the wall for the passageway into the Palace auditorium.

From The Plain Dealer Action Tab, July 2, 1973.
From The Plain Dealer, August 5, 1973.

As summer turned to fall the records started to be set, Saturday September 15, 1973, saw Brel hit the 100th performance mark, with a big party after the show. I seem to recall Tom Dineen riding his Triumph through the lobby at one point. A little over six weeks later, Wednesday, October 31st, Brel broke the Cleveland long run record set in 1923 with a 28-week run of Abbie's Irish Rose at the Colonial Theatre. Things were pretty much routine by then, Russ and I would get there after school, rarely arriving together. Russ would stop at Hughie's Floral on 12th to pick up a lily for the show. We'd empty the trash, hauling it down the steps to the dumpster in the Loew Building basement. Ice buckets, actually white 45-gallon trash cans on wheels, would be emptied and refilled. Both Russ and I had unfortunate incidents with these. Right after we reopened in July 1973, Russ accidently dumped a bucket coming from the kitchen onto a floor Weldon Carpenter had recently washed and waxed when we were dark just days earlier. Sometime that fall I dumped one that was half filled with melted ice down the west grand stairs. Dennis was not pleased, but we soaked up what we could, and laid a section of scrap carpet over the wet area. We'd also keep the fire exit doorways on 17th free of debris, running down the street plucking up wine bottles and miscellaneous trash, as well as shoveling snow in the winter. For the most part, other than a few minor incidents, things ran smoothly most of the time.

Photo by William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc.

One of the more amusing aspects were the angry patrons that would storm out at intermission, this would happen several times a week. Some of Brel's songs were a bit much for some, and by the time Amsterdam closed the first act they had had enough. The funniest one was the guy that cursed out Russ and I about how his wife shouldn't have been exposed to such vulgarities while his red-faced wife stood behind him. Joe would always ask "How many we lose today?" Then there were those who thought David was Brel, often remarking " I just love that Jacks (sic) Brel, you tell Mr. Brel how much we enjoyed his performance." Another fairly common occurrence was people would sometimes go elsewhere for a drink after the show, usually The Last Motion Picture Company down the street in the Stouffer Building. They would forget when the garage closed and return to find their car securely locked in the Playhouse Square Garage. Then they would frantically pound on the State Theatre exit doors until someone came. Chuck Fleming was the first to deal with this problem, and he came up with the simplest solution, go across the street with the aluminum extension ladder, climb into a second-floor window, go downstairs let the people in, and when they drove out, hit the button and run out before the garage door came down. I think all of us over the two plus year run did this quite a few times, never once were we spotted or questioned by the police. 

When autumn winds arrived the coat check started paying dividends to Russ and I as increasing numbers of people checked coats, tipping us in quarters when we retrieved their coats on the way out. By the following spring I had a desk drawer filled with quarters. Back in 1973-74, the quarters were spent on longplayers, which were $3.98, and Royal Castle Royal Trios, which cost $1.19. Some were upset that Russ and I had this goldmine and thought it would be more equitable to rotate coat-check people. We of course objected vehemently, pointing out how no one wanted this job which also entailed clearing the exit doorways on 17th of wine bottles and other debris, as well as shoveling snow at the entrance during the winter. Adding in as well, how we sat there all spring, summer and fall when no one else wanted to be there, and it would be quite unfair to take that from us after all that. In the end Ray came down on our side and that was all that mattered.

From The Plain Dealer Action Tab, October 5, 1973. Paul Hom and his mother "Grandma" were always trying to feed me. They were the nicest people. Others in the kitchen were Annie, Rob McKeon, and later Jeff Cross. Paul's wife and daughters would be there as well. Paul would often be there at 5 AM loading in supplies.
From The Plain Dealer, October 31, 1973.
The cast (l-r) David O. Frazier, Providence Hollander, musical director David Gooding, Terry Piteo and Cliff Bemis. Photo by William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc.
From The Plain Dealer, October 31, 1973.
Bracelets given to Ray & Ceil by Providence Hollander after the record-breaking performance.
Lanie Hadden, from CSU Alumnus, Winter 1974. She was one of the people that helped make everything possible. The old Loew's State marquee received a new paint job in May 1973, within a week a truck sideswiped it, with Dennis chasing the culprit down Euclid Avenue on foot.
From The Plain Dealer, November 11, 1973.
From The Plain Dealer, November 23, 1973.

One of the more notorious problems was the bundle of cables that ran across the floor from under the stage to the light panel opposite the stage. These cables had a sheet of 3/8 flooring laid over the top, which was covered by a chunk of the same orange carpet that covered the lobby floor, with everything held down with copious amounts of gaffer tape. However, a couple times a month a crash would echo across the lobby as a bus cart tipped on the hump in the floor. This would eventually be remedied when Smitty and Todd Reeves (by this I mean Todd) dug a tunnel, using a spoon at one point, under the lobby floor for the cables, around February 1974. Once that project was complete, a major trip hazard was eliminated. Not too long afterwards, the orange carpet was replaced by a more tasteful grey. 
From The Plain Dealer Action Tab, April 19, 1974.
Scene from a 1974 performance, l-r, Providence Hollander, Ham Bell, Cliff Bemis, Terry Piteo, David Gooding, Gerald Paluck and David Frasier. From the Playhouse Square Archives.

I remember that there was a big anniversary celebration, but don't remember much about it. By this point there was a group of us that would hang out after the Friday/Saturday night shows, Russ, Jeff Williams, Billy Barnett, and Randy Leitch mostly, usually in the Palace balcony discussing various topics of the day.

Demand for a cast recording was evident from the beginning and the cast went into the studio in May 1974. The record preemed at an autograph party on the Huron Road Mall the following month and was soon in all the major stores. It was a nice package, a pair of longplayers and a glossy booklet for $9.50. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The few complaints were about the different arrangements on the record. Then there were the classic audiophiles that even Deutsche Grammophon can't please. Autograph parties were held after most shows as well as at major record stores. One afternoon after a Halle's event, a couple cast members were trapped in an elevator for an hour or so. By Christmas "Give a Gift of Brel to Those You Love" was on everyone's lips, although the word "loath" was sometimes jokingly substituted.

From The Plain Dealer, May 24, 1974.
From the Cleveland Press, July 5, 1974.
From The Plain Dealer Action Tab, July 12, 1974.

Occasionally odd problems occurred. During the second "Summer of Brel", 1974 our trash wasn't getting picked up. Our dumpster was located in the basement delivery entrance to the Loew Building. To reach this, trucks would go down a drive between the auditorium of Loew's Ohio and the Buckley Building Garage (since demolished), turning right they'd be in the Bulkley Building basement, left was the Loew Building. One day a white automobile was blocking dumpster access, so Todd Reeves writes a nice little note asking the person not to park there. Next day same thing, crumpled up note on the ground, but we tried again, didn't work. So, while we were discussing what to do next, Flemo overhears the discussion and asks what the problem is, and we tell him. He laughs at us, calls us "fucking pussies" and said, "follow me." We went out to the alley next to Loew's Ohio and he pulls out a pistol, BAM, blows the head off a pigeon, then walks over picks up the carcass and we follow him down the alleyway to the Loew Building freight entrance where he casually tosses the bloody carcass onto the hood of the white automobile, where it landed with a dull thud. We never saw that car again.

For a while it seemed like Brel would run forever, but all good things come to an end.

Joe Garry on closing night, from the Playhouse Square Archives.

From The Plain Dealer, July 30, 1975.
From The Plain Dealer, July 30, 1975.

The next chapter in this saga can be found here.

Many thanks to those who made opening night possible Ray Shepardson, Ceil Hartman, Ralph D. Smith - "Smitty", Nick Spontelli, Dennis Wild (sp), Ken Plocica- "Poe," Kevin McAndrew, Chuck Fleming, Pete Weber, Rick Trela, Russ Richards, David Eisele, Paul Hom and Sally Bemis. And of course, Director Joseph Garry and his outstanding cast: Terry Piteo, Cliff Bemis, David O. Frazier and Providence Hollander, along with musical director/pianist David Gooding, bassist Hamilton Bell and percussionist Gerald Paluck.