Hanna Theater

Cleveland’s Playhouse Square was the result of a push by locals looking to capitalize on the city’s demand for more entertainment venues. It would become one of the largest theater districts in the world, second only to New York’s Lincoln Center. Five theaters comprised the project, and the smallest of them in size would be named the Hanna theater. At its inception, spirits were high as a simple vision became an extravagant reality.

Daniel R. Hanna named the theater in honor of his father, a former Ohio senator and iron mining tycoon. The building debuted in March 1921 with a semi-public tea party almost two years to the day after construction began, and the theater was opened the day after on a frigid March evening. The Hanna Theater enjoyed success from its opening, attracting many big acts and names from across the country.

The Hanna hosted a range of types of plays and for that reason, many big names ended up performing at the theater. Vaudeville acts made their way through the Hanna, with people as big as the Marx Brothers making appearances during nationwide tours. People of national recognition like Henry Fonda performed on the Hanna’s stage. Even Katherine Hepburn came through the Hanna on tour. One of the Hanna’s most significant openings was of national importance when famous playwrights Rodgers and Hammerstein premiered “Me and Juliet” on the Hanna stage in April 1953.

Playhouse Square did not manage to attract the massive audiences its conceivers had envisioned, and the other stages began to act as hybrid playhouse-cinematheques. By 1969, the other theaters of the Playhouse complex had either closed or had been converted strictly to movie theaters, and the Hanna was the only significant theater house putting on live performances for audiences around the area. On and off shutdowns of the Hanna Theater were commonplace throughout the late seventies and into the eighties.The Hanna Theater managed to exist for several more years with steadily decreasing attendance numbers until it officially closed in 1989.

The Hanna Theater was not closed for good, however. Constant talk of renovations to the Hanna and Playhouse Square in general circulated throughout the nineties and into the 2000s. In the mid-2000s, the Great Lakes Theater Festival approached Playhouse Square about the theater and they eventually became the main funders of the renovation project, rehabilitating the theater to the state it is today.

The Hanna Marquee in 2008, now the home of the Great Lakes Theater Company, after a complete restoration of the Theater in the early 2000s. The new marquee mimics the two Hanna Theater marquees of the past.

Pictured is the Hanna Marquee on June 1, 1971. The marquee was updated in the 1960’s to bring in more spectators off the street and to showcase a more modern feel. After the front of the Hanna was bombed during a performance of “Hair” in 1971, it was renovated yet again. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

A postcard, circa 1950, showing off the corner of E. 14th and Euclid, the Hanna’s trademark marquee can be seen down the street on the right side of the photograph. The postcard described the Hanna Theater as “Cleveland’s principal legitimate playhouse.” Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

Cleveland’s Playhouse Square was the result of a push by locals looking to capitalize on the city’s demand for more entertainment venues. It would become one of the largest theater districts in the world, second only to New York’s Lincoln Center. Five theaters comprised the project, and the smallest of them in size would be named the Hanna theater. At its inception, spirits were high as a simple vision became an extravagant reality.

Daniel R. Hanna named the theater in honor of his father, a former Ohio senator and iron mining tycoon. The building debuted in March 1921 with a semi-public tea party almost two years to the day after construction began, and the theater was opened the day after on a frigid March evening. The Hanna Theater enjoyed success from its opening, attracting many big acts and names from across the country.

The Hanna hosted a range of types of plays and for that reason, many big names ended up performing at the theater. Vaudeville acts made their way through the Hanna, with people as big as the Marx Brothers making appearances during nationwide tours. People of national recognition like Henry Fonda performed on the Hanna’s stage. Even Katherine Hepburn came through the Hanna on tour. One of the Hanna’s most significant openings was of national importance when famous playwrights Rodgers and Hammerstein premiered “Me and Juliet” on the Hanna stage in April 1953.

Playhouse Square did not manage to attract the massive audiences its conceivers had envisioned, and the other stages began to act as hybrid playhouse-cinematheques. By 1969, the other theaters of the Playhouse complex had either closed or had been converted strictly to movie theaters, and the Hanna was the only significant theater house putting on live performances for audiences around the area. On and off shutdowns of the Hanna Theater were commonplace throughout the late seventies and into the eighties.The Hanna Theater managed to exist for several more years with steadily decreasing attendance numbers until it officially closed in 1989.

The Hanna Theater was not closed for good, however. Constant talk of renovations to the Hanna and Playhouse Square in general circulated throughout the nineties and into the 2000s. In the mid-2000s, the Great Lakes Theater Festival approached Playhouse Square about the theater and they eventually became the main funders of the renovation project, rehabilitating the theater to the state it is today.

The Hanna Marquee in 2008, now the home of the Great Lakes Theater Company, after a complete restoration of the Theater in the early 2000s. The new marquee mimics the two Hanna Theater marquees of the past.

Pictured is the Hanna Marquee on June 1, 1971. The marquee was updated in the 1960’s to bring in more spectators off the street and to showcase a more modern feel. After the front of the Hanna was bombed during a performance of “Hair” in 1971, it was renovated yet again. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

The original Hanna Marquee pictured in 1941. The small size of the marquee when compared to the other playhouses serves as a good illustration of how small the Hanna Theater was. Though a point of contention for operators of the Hanna at first, they eventually embraced the size and “intimacy” of the theater to attract audiences. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

 

The playbill of the first performance ever put on at the Hanna on March 28, 1921, a presentation of  “The Prince and the Pauper.” Those attending opening night remarked how the freezing temperatures and freezing rain couldn’t put a damper on the warmth of the extravagant new playhouse. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

A postcard, circa 1950, showing off the corner of E. 14th and Euclid, the Hanna’s trademark marquee can be seen down the street on the right side of the photograph. The postcard described the Hanna Theater as “Cleveland’s principal legitimate playhouse.” Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

 

A group of Hanna usher girls sit on the steps of the Hanna Lobby on Christmas Eve of 1951 before the doors opened. The management of the Hanna Theater prided itself on good service and personal attention to its patrons, the Hanna Theater made sure to dress its workers in identifiable uniforms to avail themselves to anyone needing help at any time. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

Pictured is Robert Zincker, a Hanna Theater ticket taker, greeting a theatergoer on Christmas Eve in 1951 to the Hanna and offering his assistance in any way possible. The Hanna seated a meager 1,500 patrons, the least of any Playhouse Square theater, but theatergoers often preferred the Hanna over the State and Ohio theaters because of the more intimate atmosphere. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

Three actors perform on stage during a Hanna performance before a sold out audience. The Hanna Theater attracted acts from all over the country featuring many famous actors. Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn, and the Marx Brothers all graced the Hanna stage with their presence. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

Several of Hanna’s house musicians practice parts of their set before playing to a sold out audience on December 24, 1951. The Hanna hosted a large Christmas Eve celebration featuring many local talents to celebrate the holidays; these celebrations were always a hit and attracted people from all across the city to attend. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

Audiences wait to be admitted into a matinee performance of “Hello Dolly” on a hot June summer day in 1961. The front lobby would be opened up when weather permitted to invite audiences in off the street for weekend matinee performances of different theater productions. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Library Special Collections.

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6 Responses to Hanna Theater

  1. Avatar of Mark Souther Mark Souther says:

    In the 3rd & 4th paragraphs of the main description . . .

    The Hanna hosted a range of types of plays and for that reason, many big names ended up performing at the theater. Vaudeville acts made their way through the Hanna, with people as big as the Marx Brothers making appearances during nationwide tours. People of national recognition like Henry Fondaperformed on the Hanna’s stage. Even Katherine Hepburn came through the Hanna on tour. One of the Hanna’s most significant openings was of national importance when famous playwrights Rodgers and Hammerstein premiered “Me and Juliet” on the Hanna Stage in April 1953.

    The other theaters of the Playhouse complex had either closed or become movie theaters, and the Hanna was the only significant theater house putting on live performances for audiences around the area. On and off shutdowns of the Hanna Theater were commonplace throughout the late seventies and into the eighties.The Hanna Theater managed to exist for several more years with steadily decreasing attendance numbers until it officially closed in 1989.

    . . . the transition between paragraphs isn’t clear. It jumps from an event in 1953 to the closure of the theaters, making the unknowing reader assume that some of the other theaters had already closed. The closures weren’t until 1969. Perhaps you can rework the first sentence of the 4th para. to clarify this.

    Also, world and stage should not be capitalized in the 1st & 3rd paragraphs.

    Finally, is there any plan behind the order of the photos? It seems that they should go in a more logical order – chronologically – except possibly for grouping the three different marquee images, which makes for easier comparison.

  2. Avatar of ysaleh ysaleh says:

    This is interesting. I always like the under dog type thing, and you make the Hanna Theater seem like that in your description. The postcard corner picture looks similar to some corners I have seen in New York City. The idea that Hanna Theater tried to stick to live performances even though they were failing is very interesting as well.

  3. Avatar of rjprice88 rjprice88 says:

    The Hanna Theater is a place I have never been; the only Playhouse I’ve seen is playhouse square. So it was enlightening to learn about the history of the theater district in Cleveland. I had no idea Cleveland was second only to New York’s Lincoln Center in terms of the largest theater districts around the country. It was good to learn that Cleveland restored one of its fine theaters and it now is able to thrive today after being closed for almost 20 years. Excellent and entertaining description

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Just an fyi PlayhouseSquare is one word. Not two.

    • Avatar of Mark Souther Mark Souther says:

      Elizabeth, thank you for your comment. We’re aware of the official branding as “PlayhouseSquare.” This was a portion of a course project by one of my students and will help revise content on the Cleveland Historical mobile app (and when it does he will be properly credited on the web version). The students used this multiuser blog to create content because it’s a convenient place to invite comment. The extension of comments beyond the class has been one of the happy results. At least thus far, we have chosen to use the historical term “Playhouse Square” because, as I’m sure you also know, the theater district only assumed the single-word name in more recent years. I suppose it’s one of those things that could go either way depending on one’s preference. Perhaps we’ll reconsider. Again, thanks for reading and commenting!

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