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Ohio Theatre returns to its 1921 splendor with renovations nearly complete

The recently finished ceiling of the Ohio Theater

Tom Einhouse led members of the Cleveland Restoration Society on a tour of the Ohio Theater lobby

Tom Einhouse with a plaster casting of  one of the ornamental fixtures used in the ceiling

Plaster casting for the renovation

A rendering of one of the murals that will be on the walls of the lobby

The recently finished ceiling of the Ohio Theater

Original Ornamentation used to make the new molds for the renovation

Plaster castings of the ornements used in the ceiling renovation

Plaster casting for the renovation

Plaster casting moulding used in the renovation

Working on the wall of the lobby renovation

The restoration of Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre lobby is almost complete, with the space returned to its original grandeur. The May completion will mark the final project on the Playhouse Square theater renovations list.
 
Last Saturday, Tom Einhouse, Playhouse Square’s vice president of facilities and capital, led members of the Cleveland Restoration Society on a tour of the lobby, which has been shielded from public view by drywall during the restorations. He detailed the painstaking research and physical work that went into re-creating the 1921 Thomas Lamb design. Restoration began in June 2015.
 
“This is the transformation of the Ohio Theatre,” Einhouse told the group. “We’re just putting the finishing touches on it.”
 
Einhouse explained that the theater lobbies were often updated every 10 years in the early days, sometimes covering the original design. Then the Ohio Theatre was damaged by a fire in 1964. A 1980s attempt at remodeling on a limited budget left the theater with painted drywall, dropped ceilings and linoleum floors.

The recently finished ceiling of the Ohio Theater
 
“The happiest time of my life was getting rid of those,” Einhouse told the group. The $5.5 million project was funded with a $3 million grant from the George Gund Foundation and $2 million from Playhouse Square’s $100 million Advancing the Legacy campaign for capital improvements, endowment growth, neighborhood transformation, education programming and new productions.

Saturday’s tour began in the State Theatre lobby and auditorium, where Einhouse pointed out the restored ceiling – painted in 14 different colors and used 6,000 sheets of metal leaf – plastering and new chandeliers. Twenty-five painters, 20 of them locals from Dependable Painting, stood on $140,000 worth of scaffolding to get the job done.
 
Einhouse also talked about the conversion to LED lighting, which provides better illumination, requires less maintenance and costs less.
 
The tour then moved on to the Ohio Theatre lobby. Before entering the Ohio Theatre lobby space, which is still surrounded by drywall, Einhouse made the group raise their right hands and swear they would not look up until he gave the word.
 
When he did, the group collectively inhaled at the ornate 150-foot long, hand painted ceiling. Jeff Greene, owner of EverGreene Architectural Arts in New York, worked with Cleveland architect firm Westlake Reed Leskosky and Einhouse to painstakingly research and recreate the original paint colors, plaster ornamentals, columns and other décor to accurately replicate the original design. Turner Construction and the Coniglio Company were the contractors on the job. The project took six months to complete.

Plaster casting of one of one of the ornements used in the ceiling renovation

The acrylic paint and glazes were all hand applied and wiped. Two of the painters on the EverGreene team, Mike and Jaime Carpenter of Hudson, were particularly pleased to be involved. While they normally travel the country for restoration projects, Einhouse said they were pleased to be working closer to home.
 
Research included delving into the Thomas Lamb archives at Columbia University’s Avery Library. “We were able to find the original drawings,” boasted Einhouse. Other reference photos came from Architectural Digest. Elements of the original ornamental plaster were found in a cove of the theater lobby and photos helped them match the look. Nearly, 8,500 hours of plaster sculpting went into the project. The sprinklers and air returns are cleverly hidden in the plaster ornamental elements of the ceiling.
 
“We were able to recreate it pretty accurately,” says Einhouse. “Everything was created by hand. We used modern building techniques to recreate something very authentic.”
 
Walls will be adorned with three 30-foot by 10-foot murals, recreated from the originals that were inspired by 17th Century French painter Nicolas Poussin. Six EverGreene artists worked on the canvas murals, which will be shipped from New York and installed in April.

Rendering of the restored Ohio Theater lobby
 
Two fireplaces, four-foot high marble and mahogany accents will adorn the walls, in addition to display cases and columns. Historic chandeliers, although not the originals, will be restored, cleaned and rewired. The original carpeting is being recreated by Brintons in England.
 
In addition to the lobby, a $900,000 restroom project included capping the sewage pipes and expanding the women’s restroom by 40 percent. The entire restoration will be completed by May 15, ahead of the Restoring the Legacy benefit gala.
 
There were no snags along the way, said Einhouse. “We were able to peel back everything and get back to the original room,” he says. “And we kept the theater open the whole time.” While at times parts of the project were exposed, theatergoers only got “sneak peaks now and then” of the work going on in the Ohio.

“This could last 50 years,” said Einhouse of the restoration.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 18 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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