How a search for a lecture hall led to the rescue of Cleveland’s Playhouse Square theaters

posted by CSWalczak on February 15, 2010 at 7:50 am

CLEVELAND, OH — One of the nation’s most successful theater restoration projects had a very simple beginning: the search of a Cleveland Board of Education worker looking for a place that could be used as a temporary lecture hall. Borrowing the keys to the closed, soon-to-be demolished State Theater on Euclid Avenue, Ray Shepardson unwittingly began the effort that would culminate in the rescue and restoration of the State, Ohio, Palace, Allen, and Hanna theaters over the next forty years, as well as changing the direction of his life forever.

It had been stripped of its Greek, Roman and Baroque filigrees in preparation for its demolition. But Shepardson, a former Mercedes salesman with no experience in theater or historic preservation, was impressed.

“I was in awe,” Shepardson, now 66, said from Wheaton, Ill., where he has been trying for five years to restore another historic theater.

Read the story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Comments (3)

HowardBHaas on February 15, 2010 at 6:47 pm

I’m linking this wonderful, inspiring article to Friends of the Boyd ( Weekly Update email tomorrow.

CSWalczak on February 15, 2010 at 8:58 pm

As a native Clevelander, this project makes me proud of my city and congratulate and admire those who made this stunning project a reality.

My only wish though, was that not one of these magnificently restored structures was envisioned as a place primarily for the exhibition motion pictures which was the primary historic purpose of most of these true treasures. Couldn’t one of them (the State or the Ohio would have my choices) been turned into something like the Pictureville Cinema in Bradford, England or the Cinerama in Seattle equipped to show any projection format/ I know that films are still occasionally shown, but that is not my point. I wonder if something could have been worked out with the Cleveland Museum of Art (which runs a fine film series) or another organization for the programming.

RickB on February 16, 2010 at 5:11 am

I can remember seeing a network news story from the ‘70s that showed the mostly-closed theaters as a symbols of Cleveland’s decline…one of them had “SUPPORT OUR SCHOOLS” on the marquee. I now wonder if that might have been related to the use as a lecture hall described here rather than just a random message!

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