Euclid Avenue, 1927
The Allen Theatre opened its doors on April 1, 1921, just four days after the Hanna, rounding out the five primary theaters of what was soon after referred to as Playhouse Square.
This 2,500 seat house, named for Canadian-born owners Jay and Jules Allen, was constructed to be exclusively a movie palace. It was long and narrow, with a vast, deep balcony, and absolutely no stage or backstage space. The original capacity was for an audience of 3,000.
When the city was deteriorating, the Allen was the first Playhouse Square theater to close, in March 1968. The Ohio, State and Palace followed soon after. When these other Euclid Avenue theaters were saved and restored during the 1970s and 80s, the Allen's fate was still unclear. In the 1990s a new developer wanted to make it a parking lot.
"With the house lights on, the ceiling suggested a cloudy blue sky; when the lights dimmed, twinkling stars appeared. In place of boxes, six side windows were softly lit from behind to suggest twilight outside." - John Vacha, Showtime In Cleveland
Yes. Really. Still, even in the 1990s, there was talk of taking down buildings to create that all so unavailable parking in downtown Cleveland. In any event, it didn't happen, cabaret shows kept the place occupied for a time, before an actual theater space (stage, backstage, fly system, &c.) was created in 1998 for the musical Jolson. Or The Lion King, if you believe the woman who led my tour the other day. The Allen played home to the Cleveland Orchestra during is 1999-2000 season, while Severance Hall was being renovated.
Lady said "Lion King."
Unfortunately, the auditorium of the Allen was never truly reconfigured for live performance. The balcony ran almost half the length of the hall, making seats beneath it feel cave-like and a bit dreary. For a hall built in the 1920s, it was remarkably well-suited for rock music, and a popular concert venue. One of the few times I have ever attended a performance there it was a few years ago when Josh and I went to see The Musical Box, a Genesis cover band recreate the 1975 Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour.
This weekend, the Allen takes on new life as the home of Cleveland Play House. Abandoning the home they now refer to unceremoniously as simply the 8500 Space, the Play House is taking a bold new step, joining forces with PlayhouseSquare and becoming part of a downtown Cleveland landscape which, in spite of any apparent or rational economic explanation, continues to grow.
Of course, Clevelanders are notorious sticks-in-the-mud. We despise change. And CPH Artistic Director Michael Bloom has had to deal with two issues on that front; selling a move into the heart of darkest downtown to subscribers who haven't been there since Stokes was elected, and also adapting a space with its own rich history and beauty.
Allen, before redesign.
How the successfully the first challenge is addressed remains to be seen. As for the Allen, the project director of the design firm was quoted in Cleveland Scene:
"We always wanted to maintain a visual link to the historic walls of the original structure, and that is the most unique aspect of the new Allen Theatre, where we are inserting a modern aesthetic while preserving many of the traditional details and elements."So how do you take a 2,500+ house, reduce capacity to a fifth that size, and preserve the original design elements?
First, you paint it orange.
To be continued ...
Showtime In Cleveland