Playhouse Square: An Economic Engine in Downtown CLE

by | Nov 5, 2019 | Arts & Culture

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Margy Judd, President & Owner

When I think of the places that have changed drastically in the 40 years since Executive Arrangements was founded, I think of our theater district. So as our staff shares their 40 favorite places in honor of this four decade milestone anniversary, I’ll share one of my favorites: Playhouse Square.
In the 1970s Ray Shepardson literally saved these 1920s movie theaters from the wrecking ball and Lainie Hadden and Cleveland’s Junior League gave the first major financial gift to support the renovation of the theaters. Without their help, the magnificent lobbies and theaters that give me goosebumps every time I see a show would have been bulldozed!
I’ve been attending performances in these spaces since I was a little kid. I joined Executive Arrangements the same year that Playhouse Square’s young professional support group, Partners, was formed. I immediately joined and have been a volunteer every since.  When I was in my 20s, our irreverent unofficial motto was: “We drink beer in the name of theater.”
My involvement morphed and I joined the membership committee, then I chaired the annual Jump Back Ball (1997 with the theme of Voodoo on the Bayou, and 800 guests attended a raucous night that included a crawdad eating contest and a concert by Buckwheat Zydeco.) Then, I chaired the Partners board. I joined the Playhouse Square Foundation board in 2004 after I bought EA and became a business owner.
I’m incredibly proud to be part of one of the most vibrant districts in downtown. Live theater is the economic engine that supports restaurants, bars, shops, apartment buildings, and a hotel. In late October, I took a hard hat tour of the new Lumen apartment building, a 34-story tower that is changing our city’s skyline. Playhouse Square is the developer of this property, and very few performing arts complexes can brag about building a skyscraper!

The photo below is what the Ohio Theater looked like in the 1970s before Playhouse Square was formed and volunteers began helping raise money and interest in the preservation of these theaters. This is pretty typical of the condition of all the theaters and makes me wince to think that these beautiful bones could have been razed to make way for a parking lot until someone started paying attention.

Photographer: Bruce Kiefer; Source: Dalton, van Dijk, Johnson Architects; Photo Courtesy of Playhouse Square

And is here is what it looks like today. Not too shabby, right?

Photo courtesy of Ruth Flannery, Playhouse Square Archives Project Manager

Photo courtesy of Destination Cleveland

Playhouse Square is not satisfied just renovating the insides of their buildings. Their creativity edges out to the streetscape, with marquees, signage, and the world’s largest outdoor chandelier (Guinness Book approved).
I have a dear group of theater-loving girlfriends and because none of our men are as crazy about performing arts as we are, I share season subscriptions to three different theaters with this group of five other women. We attend Playhouse Square’s Broadway Series and the dramatic shows put on by both The Cleveland Play House and Great Lakes Theater. I will also see shows when I visit New York, Chicago, and London, but in Cleveland, you can see them for half the cost and half the hassle. You can even decide to see a show the week of and still get great seats because we have so many venues to choose from.
One final shot of most of the girls I share my theater subscriptions with…having fun the week that Playhouse Square installed the giant outdoor chandelier.

Margy and friends at Playhouse Square

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