Playhouse Square's Ohio Theater Lobby is Recreated from Scratch
by David C. Barnett
Playhouse Square quietly re-opened the Ohio Theater lobby, this past week, after a little over a year of renovation. It’s a comeback a long time in the making.
The glory days of the old, downtown theater district were coming to an end in the mid-1960s, as movie theaters and their patrons started moving to suburban malls. The 1920’s grandeur of the Allen, Palace, State and Ohio theaters was fading. In 1964, the Ohio was ravaged by fire, incinerating the theater’s historic murals and extensive wood detailing.
The lobby bore the brunt of the damage, and to keep it open the scorched walls were painted red. It closed four years later, as did the remaining three theaters, the following year. Insult was added to injury, when the shuttered Ohio’s sprinkler system was triggered by vandals, destroying most of the remaining plaster details.
The slow comeback of Playhouse Square started a couple years later, leading to a complete restoration each theater over the course of several decades. Even the Ohio was upgraded with a restored auditorium and an elegant lobby that looked nice and clean, but was nowhere near the grandeur of the original.
Flash forward to early last year when New York-based EverGreene Architectural Arts came in to scrape the Ohio lobby back to its bones and re-build it according to the original design of noted theater architect George Lamb.
Using photographs and drawings of the old lobby along with castings of similar architectural flourishes from Lamb’s State Theater, next door, EverGreen’s artisans have recreated the original space.
They even hand-painted faithful versions of the three original 30-foot x10-foot murals.
The $5.3-million project was largely paid for by a $3-million grant from the Gund Foundation. EverGreene’s work was supported in the project by the Cleveland firm Westlake Reed Leskosky. The finished product is open for public viewing, and it’s quite a sight to see when you consider that almost everything you’re looking at was created from scratch.