Shopping cart

Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Renaissance

Architecture & Urban Renewal, Recent Releases, Regional Interest, Theater Studies

DescriptionHow five beloved Cleveland theaters escaped the wrecking ball and inspired city-wide urban renewal

Shortly after World War I ended, five new theaters were constructed in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, all within a two-block radius. The concentration of these venues, which featured movies, vaudeville, and “legitimate” theater, became known collectively as Playhouse Square. For 50 years, the State, Ohio, Hanna, Allen, and Palace theaters enjoyed varying degrees of financial success until television, suburbanization, and urban decline darkened four of their marquees by the end of the 1960s.

In the 1970s, with the shuttered theaters facing demolition, groups of like-minded Clevelanders united to fight to save the Square, influencing the city’s establishment to create formal plans to renovate the theaters and ensure their financial viability. Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Renaissance tells the story of how the rejuvenation of Playhouse Square became one of the main catalysts for Cleveland’s larger comeback from postindustrial decline, inspiring and serving as a model for other urban renewal efforts across the city.

John Vacha is the first to write a comprehensive, in-depth account of Playhouse Square’s history, beginning with the Square’s 1921 opening and describing how the COVID-19 pandemic once again left its theaters temporarily empty before their triumphant reopenings in 2022. Richly illustrated and featuring interviews with the central figures involved in saving the Square, Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Renaissance is a powerful story that will appeal to theater history buffs and preservationists alike—reminding readers of the significant role the performing arts serve in shaping a city’s culture.

AuthorJohn Vacha is the recipient of the Herrick Memorial Award from the Early Settlers Association of the Western Reserve, given in recognition of his theatrical history, Showtime in Cleveland: The Rise of a Regional Theater Center. He is the author of several other books including From Broadway to Cleveland: A History of the Hanna Theatre.