Euclid Avenue Opera House: One of the most beautiful theaters in the country in the 1800s

For almost 47 years in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, the Euclid Avenue Opera House was the place for budding actors heading for the New York City footlights. It was a source of quality theater in Cleveland and earned a reputation for being one of the finest theaters in the United States.

A forerunner to Playhouse Square, the Opera House was designed by theater architecture specialist D. Graham. Construction started in 1873 on the corner of Euclid Avenue and Sheriff Street (today’s East 4th Street). The four-story opera house was completed in 1875 for $200,000.  

The carpeted theater was described as “beautiful,” “elaborate,” and “luxurious.” It featured a painted dome, with intricate plasterwork detailed throughout the space. The 70-foot deep, by 65-foot-wide auditorium had a 54-foot by 76-foot stage and a 34-foot-high proscenium arch. The theater seated 1,638 people.

Well-known actor, talent manager, and producer John A. Ellsler, who already ran the Academy of Music on Bank Street (today’s West 6th Street), took charge of the opera house, bringing in his stock acting company to perform.

The Euclid Avenue Opera House opened on Sep. 6, 1875, and the curtain went up with the 1870 satirical play “Saratoga, or Pistols for Seven” by Bronson Howard. Jon R. Whiting had the starring role, and the cast included Ellsler himself, his wife, Euphemia Emma Myers, and their daughter, Effie Ellsler.

Effie Ellsler's poster, ca. 1877Effie Ellsler's poster, ca. 1877Ellsler was known for priming local talent, who often went on to careers in New York City, including his daughter Effie. Other Academy of Music alumni actors of the era who went on to lucrative acting careers included John McCullough, Clara MorrisAnne Jane Hartley Gilbert, Lawrence Barrett, and Edwin Booth (brother of John Wilkes Booth, who also once took the stage at the Academy of Music).

Ellsler went broke in the late 1880s and Marcus A. Hanna bought the Euclid Avenue Opera House at a sheriff's sale and turned it over to local theater manager Augustus Hartz, who ran it from 1884 to 1920.

In 1885, the Euclid Avenue Opera House was one of the first theaters in the country to convert the space from gas to electricity. Then, in October 1892, the electrical fixtures caused a fire. Construction to rebuild the Opera House began in January 1893 and the theater reopened later that year.

The Opera House continued to thrive into the 20th Century. In 1899, it hosted New York’s Metropolitan Opera’s first trip to Cleveland.

As the curtains went up at the first theaters in Playhouse Square in 1921, The Cleveland Opera House was well into its decline.

On April 2, 1922, the Opera House closed permanently after a performance of “Uncle Tom's Cabin.” The very next morning, demolition began, and an S. S. Kresge Company was built in its place. Today, The Corner Alley sits at 402 Euclid Ave.—on the site of the former opera house. 

Ellsler eventually moved to New York City to continue his theater career, where he died in 1905. He is buried in Lake View Cemetery.

The Hanna Theatre on East 14th Street is considered the successor to the Cleveland Opera House. Marcus Hanna’s son, Daniel Rhodes Hanna, built the theatre in tribute to his father in early 1921. Today, the theater is part of the Playhouse Square family of theaters.

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Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: 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 20 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.