Friday, March 20, 2015

The George Gund Foundation has given $3 million to the Playhouse Square Foundation to renovate and restore the lobby of the Ohio Theatre to its 1921 glory!!!!!!!!!

The Ohio Theatre opened in 1921, and boasted what was then – and still is – the biggest lobby of any playhouse in the world. The $825,000 structure ($110 million in 2015 inflation-adjusted dollars) was financed and owned by Loew's Theatres. The State, a 3,400-seat movie house and stage, was built at the same time by Loew's, but the 1,400-seat Ohio was intended to be more intimate and present only plays. Fleishman Construction Co. of New York was the builder.

The Ohio Theatre was designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. The interior was designed by interior decorator, Philip Garbo. The Ohio's 320-foot-long lobby (which was interconnected with the State's) was decorated in Italian Renaissance Revival style in an elegant green-and-ivory color scheme, and featured three murals titled "The Cycle of Venus" by an Italian artist named Sampitrotti. Eight large paintings of Greco-Roman gods and goddesses also adorned the lobby, some of them originals painted in France during the reign of Louis XV. The balcony featured paintings by an Italian artist named P. Pizzi, and represented scenes in Arcadia (ancient Greece).

The Ohio Theatre's lobby was redecorated in an Art Deco style in 1935, and the theater turned into a supper club called the Mayfair Casino. The Mayfair closed in 1936. Loew's reopened the Ohio in 1943 as a movie theater. Then in 1964, a terrible fire destroyed the Ohio Theatre. The lobby and balcony were completely destroyed.

The lobby was rebuilt in the Modernist style and the auditorium painted red to hide smoke damage. The Ohio closed in February 1969, along with the rest of the Playhouse Square theaters, after declining patronage made it financially impossible to keep open.

The Ohio and State theaters were threatened with demolition in 1972 and 1977. The Playhouse Square Foundation was founded in response to the latter crisis, and obtained a long-term lease on both of them. The building was purchased in late 1977 by Cuyahoga County. In 1978, the Ohio Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1981, the Ohio Theatre became the home of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival. A nine-month, $4 million emergency restoration took place, and on July 9, 1982, the Ohio Theatre reopened with 1,000 seats. The 1981-1982 renovation was overseen by architect Peter van Dijk of the firm of Dalton, van Dijk, Johnson and Partners. Its lobby, however, was not renovated. Instead, a simple, low-cost refurbishment. Over the next 30 years, the State Theatre, Connor Palace, Hanna Theatre, and Allen Theatre were each completely renovated and refurbished. But work on the Ohio's lobby was continually put off.

The $5 million, year-long restoration of the Ohio Theatre lobby begins on July 7, 2015.

Only 1 to 2 percent of the original lobby remains: a section of decorative frieze and entablature where the wall meets the ceiling. The Cleveland architectural firm Westlake Reed Leskosky (the structural architect) and EverGreene Architectural Arts of New York City (the design architect) have had to research the columns, murals, decorative fireplaces, painted surfaces, carpets, ornamental moldings and more from old black-and-white photographs. Although the lobby's original blueprints were located in the Thomas Lamb Collection at the Avery Library at Columbia University, the theater wasn't built exactly as it was drawn.

EverGreene artisans will hand-sculpt about 30 decorative elements to make molds for the extensive plaster work.

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