The Variety Theatre Complex in Cleveland, Ohio, is a 2,000-square foot Spanish Gothic vaudeville and movie house that was built by the Variety Amusement Company and operated between 1927 and 1984. With a capacity for 1,900 patrons, the Variety Theatre included a 350-seat balcony, an enormous Kimball Organ, an orchestra pit, and three dressing rooms for stage performances.
The architectural style of this grand theatre is Spanish Gothic and was designed by Cleveland-based architect Nicola Petti – the same architect who designed the Cedar Lee Theatre. The walls and ceilings were adorned with cut-glass chandeliers, marble, brass, and tapestries, and fireproof Rackle Artstone was used for ornamental work. Outside were eight storefronts and 13 600 square-foot one-bedroom apartments.
History of Variety Theater Complex
The Variety Amusement Company opened the Variety Theatre on November 24, 1927, with Clara Bow in “Hula” and vaudeville on the stage. Guest organist Edward Benedict opened the Kimball organ. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, many theaters closed and the demand for these shows dropped significantly. And only two years after it opened, the Variety Theatre was bought by Warner Bros. One of the busiest movie theaters on Cleveland’s west side, it ran special community promotions such as free Christmas parties for children up to 15-years old, complete with movies and candy.
Warner Brothers would then run the theatre until 1954, before selling it to Wargo Realty. The Community Circuit Theaters Co. were the following owners and ran the theatre until 1976. It would then switch hands once more, and be purchased by Russell Koz, who would run it as a second-run theater. Koz transitioned the theater in the 1980s to begin hosting live music.
The most infamous performance was a Motörhead show in 1984 in which the band played at a face-melting volume of 130 decibels, breaking The Who’s previous world record from 1976 and earning the group the nickname “The Loudest Band in the World”.
The Variety began to be used as a showstopper for heavy metal rock bands in April 1985. 11 Touring bands included Metallica, the Dead Kennedys, and Motorhead. The volume of the performances and the raucous crowds they drew caused friction with neighbors, who filed complaints about noise violations, safety, and loitering. On January 24, 1986, Judge Thomas O. Matia issued a preliminary injunction that the noise from the rock concerts is confined within the theatre. It was in response to John and Frances Heyer 10 who lived behind the venue and complained of the excessive noise and loiters.
Lack of off-street parking and the high cost of utilities and other expenses for a single screen theatre forced the Variety Theatre to close in 1986. Later on, a private school in the Cleveland area, Freedom Academy, used the theatre as a performing arts school. A boxing academy last occupied the Variety Theatre until 1990.
In 2002, local councilwoman Dona Brady joined with Gretchen Moore, the commercial director at Westown Community Development Corporation, beginning plans to restore the theatre, which had then sat abandoned for somewhere close to 14 years. They established the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre ( a nonprofit group dedicated to restoring the theatre) and took over the property in 2009.
Restoration of Cleaveland’s Variety Theater
The organization Friends of the Variety Theatre took over restoration efforts and applied for a state historic tax credit in 2014 but was rejected. It amended its application and in December 2015, was awarded $1.4 million in tax credits. The first phase of the renovation was to upgrade the Variety Theatre Complex electrical system and next step was the installation of the marquee canopy and vertical blade.
The entire restoration project cost around $15 million to complete. Plans called for building rehabilitation, and a first-floor theater area to be sectioned off into a restaurant and entertainment venue.
In September 2016 a replica of the original vertical name sign was installed and re-lit. The 28-foot, 2,280-LED-bulb marquee was fabricated by Wagner Sign funded by $110,000 in neighbourhood development funding. A grant from FirstEnergy Corporation was used to bring electricity into the Variety.
Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, special care will be taken to ensure the historic features are preserved, replaced and replicated through out the building. The Variety Theatre is also the centerpiece of the Lorain Avenue Master Plan.
Haunted Photos of Variety Theater Complex
Stunning Photos of Variety Theater After New Marquee Installation
Rendering of the new marquee installation (based on the original marquee of 1927). Construction/Installation commences 2016. In September 2016 a replica of the original vertical name sign was installed and re-lit. The 28-foot, 2,280-LED-bulb marquee was fabricated by Wagner Sign.