Know Ohio: Playhouse Square

While Hamilton continues its run in New York City, one place you’re likely to find it in the future is on-stage in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. And, up next, Know Ohio correspondent Mary Fecteau brings us the exciting history of this dazzling entertainment center.   

You might think you need to flock to the bright lights of Broadway for some world-class entertainment, but did you know the largest performing arts center in the country, outside of New York, is located right here in Ohio? And, actually, I happen to be standing in it.

Right outside is Cleveland’s Playhouse Square, a theater district that consists of nine lavish theaters that host the top shows, straight off the stages of Broadway. Over one million guests laugh, cry, and cheer at over a thousand performances every year.

And this is exactly what Cleveland real estate developer Joseph Laronge envisioned when he came up with the idea for Playhouse Square way back at the turn of the century. Laronge partnered with New York City business magnate Marcus Loew, and construction of the swanky theaters began in the 1920’s. The beautiful theaters themselves were designed to captivate audiences and were created by famous architects like Thomas W. Lamb. For over forty years, Joseph Laronge’s vision was a success: Ohioans flocked to these theaters to see classic theater, vaudeville acts, and, eventually, movies. 

But then came the rise of television, and population loss in the city of Cleveland, and suddenly theater attendance was dwindling. By 1969, almost all of these theaters had permanently closed their doors. Although outcry began immediately, it took over 20 years, and some serious determination on the part of supporters, to renovate and reopen these shuttered theaters. 

But, today, Playhouse Square is bigger and better than ever! The district has added new theaters, eateries, and hotels, but probably the most memorable addition is the world’s largest outdoor chandelier, which hovers over the heart of Playhouse Square on Euclid Avenue.

While many of the old theater palaces of the past have been demolished in other cities, Cleveland’s determination to preserve these treasures paid off. I doubt even Joseph Laronge expected his vision would endure nearly one hundred years later! 

Instructional Links

Website: Playhouse Square

Video: YouTube, WEWS NewsChannel 5, My Ohio: Lighting Giant Chandelier in Cleveland's Playhouse Square

Video: PBS LearningMedia, Career Connections, Senior Vice President of Theatre Operations

Website Article: Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor, Playhouse Square History

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