Friday, September 9, 2011

Allen Theater, 1501 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH

Allen Theater, Cleveland, OH ceiling clouds

Allen Theater, Cleveleand, OH ceiling tiles

Built in 1921, a Renaissance Revival, a style inspired by Renaissance architect Raphael's 1523 Villa Madama near Rome. It was named for its owners, Jules and Jay Allen, brothers who operated a Toronto-based chain of theaters. Designed by C. Howard Crane as a 3000 seat single screen movie theater only and did not have a working stage. A Kimball theater organ KPO 60578 size 3/23 was installed in the Allen Theater in 1921.

Opened on April 1, 1921, it joined the Ohio, State, and Hanna theaters, which had debuted only weeks before. The Allen was constructed in conjunction with the Bulkley Bldg., an 8-story office building on Euclid Ave., just east of E. 14th St.(8)

Although the Allen hosted some of the earliest events in the campaign to restore Cleveland's Playhouse Square, it was nearly lost amid the subsequent festivities surrounding the reopening of its 3 neighbors, the Ohio Theater, State Theater, and Palace Theater.

An ornate lobby led to a pillared Italian Renaissance rotunda, its dome 33' high. The balcony seating area was reached from another domed entrance hall, while yet a third dome graced the main arena.(8)

Even whispers can be easily heard across the room in the unusual acoustics beneath the dome.(Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer)

An unusual element of this theatre was the transition from the lobby to the auditorium.
The lobby had (has) a 1-story ceiling, and walking towards the auditorium you enter a 2 1/2 story colonaded rotunda, which at the second floor is open to the mezzanine lobby. As you went through the columns on the opposite side of the rotunda you entered the auditorium at the head of the aisles under the balcony. In the low ceiling there, the underside of the balcony, there was an eliptical dome over the seating area. This dome was also open to the mezzanine lobby area upstairs. The recent renovation, sadly, saw this dome filled in and a bar installed upstairs.(9)

One of the first wide screen theaters built in the 1920's.(2)

Because the Allen brothers were not affiliated with a major motion-picture circuit, they experienced difficulty in securing first-run features.(8)

The Canadian Allen Circuit gained a foothold in the United States with their beautiful Allen Theatre in Cleveland but failed to further penetrate the American Market.
Unfortunately, although there were plans to build new theatres and take over existing theatres in the United States, England and Russia, disaster struck the Allen Circuit shortly after the opening of the Cleveland Allen. While Mr. Allen was vacationing in Hawaii, he received a telegram stating that, because his theatre empire had overextended itself, and because of the difficulty in obtaining new movies for the circuit (due to the blocking efforts of Paramount Pictures of New York), Allen Theatres were were left with insufficiant product and a staggering bank loan. In the end, Allen lost the entire circuit and Allen theatre enterprise. The Allen circuit was replaced by Famous Players of Canada Ltd. in 1923.(10)

A unique feature of the Allen Theatre in its early years was a soda fountain called the Tea Room, located on the main floor and open to the auditorium. The facility was for the exclusive use of theater patrons, and was without a separate entrance from the street.
The July, 1922, issue of a trade journal called The Soda Fountain featured this article about the operation. There is one photo. The article says that the idea for the Tea Room came from the theater's architect, C. Howard Crane.

This article is choppy but it's all there, patience ...

Allen Theater, Cleveland, OH 1927

In 1932 RKO took over.
Allen Theater, Cleveland, OH (Cleveland Public Library) 1932
Elmer Thomas Davis worked for the Allen Theater from September 1934 to January 1937. At that time all the first run theaters had one or more full time artists that produced beautiful posters of the upcoming attractions. They also created other lobby displays appropriate for the movie of the day. He was known as a lobby display man (per the union). In addition to painting wonderful huge posters of the old silent stars and the new talkies these artists had to be excellent lettering men. All the posters were hand lettered with the stars names, the movie title, the co-stars, the directors, etc. (Joann Elizabeth)
Allen Theater, Cleveland, OH 1948
Postcards were very popular back then.

In 1949 Warner Bros. joined in the theater's management, and finally, in 1953 Stanley-Warner Theatres assumed the lease. Despite the expenditure of $500,000 in 1961 to renovate the Allen, diminishing audiences led to Stanley-Warner's decision to close the theater on 5 Mar. 1968.(8)

For several decades, the Allen Theatre served as one of the grandest places in the city to see a motion picture, before falling into decline in the 1950's and 1960's.
The Doors, Allen Theater, Cleveland, OH 2/14/69

Seeing spotty use there after, it was very close to becoming another parking lot. Demolition workers had started to take out the brass railings, only to re-install them once the theater's future was secured.
In 1973, now completely renovated, the Cleveland's Playhouse Square holdings were roughly 10,000 seats. The second-largest performance arts center in the United States. 

Bruce Springsteen,  made his local debut there in 1974 as an opener for Wishbone Ash.

For a year, a series of concerts and appearances by celebrities like Richard Harris and Lily Tomlin, were presented at the Allen Theatre. A 25-year restoration endeavor emerged that raised $53 million, culminating in the largest theater restoration project in the world. Today Playhouse Square Center ranks second only to New York’s Lincoln Center as North America’s largest performing arts complex."(13)

In 1976 the owners of the building MilCapInc. leased the theatre lobby to a restaurant operator who ran it for a couple years.(7)

For several years it housed a restaurant in its lobby, called The Rotundra, but demolition had already begun in Jan. 1993, when the Playhouse Square Assn. signed a long-term lease to preserve the Allen as part of its downtown theater complex.

Today, fully restored to its 1920's splendor and one of the prime components of Cleveland's famed Playhouse Square, the Allen Theatre is primarily used as a venue for touring Broadway shows and other live acts requiring a large stage.(3)

The Canopy Marquee on Euclid Avenue has been restored, as closely as possible with some definite modifications, to its original early 1920's design. It is over 28 feet across the width with 14 foot wide illuminated dome in the middle. The marquee differs from its early 1920's predecessor in only a few ways: types of materials used, color, and some of the actual finished detailing.

Euclid at E. 13th, Cleveland, OH 1932


1921: Opened by Jules and Jay Allen on April 1 with silent film "The Greatest Love"; seats 3,080.
1922: Loews manages.
1932: RKO manages.
1949: Warner Bros. manages.
1953: Stanley-Warner manages.
1961: Seating reduced to 2,800 in $500,000 renovation.
1968: Closes May 7.
1971: Grateful Dead /NRPS perform pre-opening 10/29/71.
1971: PlayhouseSquare Association sponsors Budapest Symphony Orchestra Nov. 21.
1972-76: Belkin Productions books Bruce Springsteen, the Bee Gees, Cheech & Chong and Kiss; National Dance Company and Lily Tomlin also play.
1977-78: "Laserium" laser show.
1977-79: Old Allen Restaurant.
1980-82: Lobby Restaurant.
1982: Cleveland Foundation buys Bulkley Building, which houses theater, for $3.9 million.
1987: Bulkley sold to developers who plan to raze theater.
1992: Demolition begins.
1993: PlayhouseSquare Foundation signs 20-year lease on Jan. 22, stopping demolition.
1994-1996: "Forever Plaid" runs 437 performances.
1996-97: "Shear Madness" runs 269 performances.
1997: Renovation begins May 18.
1998: Reopens Oct. 2 with 2,500 seats, making Playhouse Square the largest U.S. performing-arts center outside New York; "Jolson" opens a two-week run Oct. 6; "Footloose" launches national tour with a three-week stand.
1999: Cleveland Orchestra plays while Severance Hall renovated.
2000: Ohio Ballet, Marc Antony, "Miss Saigon," "Ragtime" and "Phantom of the Opera."
2001: Cleveland musicians protest electronic music in "Annie"; dance companies and Tri-C JazzFest take up residence.
2002: "Beauty and the Beast"; "Star Trek: Voyager" convention; visiting companies begin producing "Nutcracker"; "The Producers" sets sales records.
2003-08: "Les Miserables" (twice), "Mame," "Phantom," "Miss Saigon" (again), "Producers" (again), Kenny G, Bebe Neuwirth, gospel musicals, "Lord of the Dance," Banff Mountain Film Festival, Emmylou Harris, Bernadette Peters, Maya Angelou.
2008: In June, news breaks that Cleveland State University is considering renovating theater and moving in its drama program.
2009: Leonard Cohen; in April, news breaks that the Cleveland Play House and CSU will team up to move in; in October, Play House sells current home to the Cleveland Clinic for $13 million.
2010: Last visit by Tri-C JazzFest (moving to State Theatre in 2011); "Phantom" to be last show, July 28-Aug. 22; construction to begin in September.
2011 (projected): Target reopening in September.
A book entitled "Cleveland's Playhouse Square" by Patricia M. Mote chronicles in words and photographs the Loew's State & Ohio, RKO Allen & Palace and Hanna theaters from their opening in the 1920s through 2006. It can be found in the Local Interest section of Cleveland area bookstores, and for those not in the area it can be ordered from the publisher at the following website:

Jerry performed here on
10/29/71 New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead (the same date Duane Allman died)
In an effort to bring the Allen's plight for preservation to the forefront of Clevelanders, the Playhouse Square Association (which was formed in 1970) reopened the Allen Theatre in November 1971, opening with a performance by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. Does this mean that the Grateful Dead and New Riders had a pre-opening party/Duane Allman wake just before, on 10/29/71?

2.)^shoeshoe14, comments,  -cinematreasures)
3.)^Krefft, Bryan, Roe, Ken,
4.)^The Michigan Architect and Engineer, Volume 4, pg. 8,
5.)^jokirb, comments, 2008-01-15,
6.)^lostmemory, comments, 2007-09-14,
7.)^Dutton, Frank, comments, 2005-08-18,
8.)^Somich, Jim, comments, 2005-01-19,
9.)^dave-bronx, comments, 2004-09-14,
10.)^Chuck1231, comments, 2006-02-11,
13.)^Patsy, 2008-01-15, comments,

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