The theater, often called “the Hip,” opened as a vaudeville house on 30 December 1907. The $2,000,000, eleven-story Hippodrome was located at 720 Euclid Avenue and could hold an audience numbering 4,500. In addition to its 150 member permanent ballet and stock company, the Hippodrome also welcomed visiting stars and performances.  For example, both visiting and home-based companies gave operas at the Hippodrome.  It attracted audience members from all over the country and was a great problematic competitive source for other Cleveland theater houses.  Although the spectacular features of the Hippodrome, such as its hydraulic stage, animal cages, and extensive enormous water tank for aquatic performances that greatly surpassed those other Cleveland Theaters, it shared many of its predecessors experiences.

The Hippodrome best reflects the trends of dramatic entertainment in its transition from a live-entertainment venue to one dedicated to motion pictures.  As early as 1909, theatergoers had become disgruntled over the high prices of theater tickets that had resulting from big theater businesses.  In the 1920s, American audiences were given a less expensive alternative, as motion pictures became a prevalent part of the entertainment industry. The number of playhouses in the United States dropped by thirty percent between 1920 and 1930, and the Great Depression put an end to many more. Unlike the Euclid Avenue Opera House and the Colonial that both came to an end during this time, the Hippodrome survived this period by converting some of its space to film in the mid 1920s.

After World War II, television and the movement to the suburbs hit movie theaters hard, drastically reducing the number of those in metropolitan Cleveland.  It was during this time that Warner Brothers gave up the Hippodrome, and Telenews, an organization that collected theaters across the country, took it over on 9 July 1951. Under Telenews, which took little care of the Cleveland investment, the Hippodrome’s financial viability continued to dwindle. In 1972, judge and real estate investor Alvin Krenzler purchased the Hippodrome in 1972.  The Hippodrome continued to show films for another eight years.

Many Clevelanders, including the owners of the building’s three remaining stores and preservation groups, protested after they became aware that a landmark of their city was going to be torn down.  Numerous suggestions were made as to how the building’s empty space could be used, and the Cleveland Landmark Commission filed a suit to stop the Hippodrome from being razed so they could have it declared a landmark. All of these efforts failed, however, and demolition on the building began in June 1980.


The Hipp, ca. 1900

The opening of the Hippodrome, known as the “Hipp,” was long anticipated.  The deadline kept being pushed back until it finally opened with only two days left in 1907.  The theater shared its building with numerous offices including the Cleveland-Marshall Law School, a ballet school, and the Cleveland Stock Exchange.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Hippodrome Stage, 1980

The Cleveland Hippodrome’s 13,528 square foot hydraulic stage, the largest in the country with the exception of the New York Hippodrome, was “said to be the best equipped stage in the world.” Its height could be determined by adjusting it to any of four levels with only the use of a lever, and it was capable of lifting a group of elephants. The stage even had a 455,000-gallon tank for shows needing aquatic accommodations.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections and Photographer David Thum.


Hippodrome Lobby, 1980

The Hippodrome was remodeled extensively, transforming it from the former great vaudeville house to, as a 1931 Plain Dealer article claimed, “the largest American theater devoted exclusively to talking pictures.”  Two thousand more seats were added as well as new draperies, carpets and interior decorations.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections and Photographer Frank Reed.


Movies at the Hip, 1938

The Hippodrome was not the only playhouse to convert to films, nor was it the first movie theater in Cleveland.  Many other American theaters did the same.  The first Cleveland movie theater – the American Theater – opened in 1903.  By 1917, the American Theater was joined by thirty-one more Cleveland movie houses.  Pictured here is the Hipp’s lobby as people wait to see “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections and Photographer James Thomas.


Basement Sign

Adding to its many novel features, the Hippodrome also had animal stables, quarters for animal attendants, 44 dressing rooms, smoking and drawing rooms, and parlors.  Here is a sign that was found in the basement of the theater asking theater employees not to feed the animals.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections and Photographer Larry O Nighswander.

Last Showing at the Hipp, 1980

Extensive renovations were unable to help the Hippodrome survive the Great Depression.  After the Hippodrome went bankrupt, Warner Brothers leased the theater on 21 November 1933.  By the time judge and real estate investor Alvin Krenzler, purchased the Hippodrome in 1972, the theater was only surviving because rented offices and stores also occupied the building.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections and Photographer Bill Nehez.

Demolition, 1981

The Hippodrome continued to show films for another eight years until 1980. The theater’s demolition began in June 1980 and lasted until the end of the 1981 winter.   A Standard Ohio Company office building and parking garage were later built on the Hippodrome’s former location.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

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4 Responses to Hippodrome

  1. Avatar of Mark Souther Mark Souther says:

    In the first para., “greatly surpassed those of the Euclid Avenue Play House and the Colonial” is, I assume supposed to refer to the Euclid Ave. Opera House, right?

    The caption about being unable to survive the depression probably should be tweaked a little to make clear that it’s the Great Depression to which you refer. It is clear from the following sentence, but it throws me a little until I get to the next sentence, especially given the 1980 photo to which it refers. This also begs the question whether this is the best connection of photo and caption. It’s a bit jarring.

    Otherwise, this looks good to me, including the images and captions. I especially like the sign warning against feeding or teasing the animals.

  2. Avatar of elkaiser3 elkaiser3 says:

    Really great images. They really helped to enhance the text, which was also well written. It’s sad that it was torn down, it sounds like it was a unique venue that was probably worth keeping.

  3. Avatar of cciullafaup cciullafaup says:

    Whoa! what a huge place! You incorporated some real interesting information about the Hipp, and images. The info about the animals/aquatic tank, is unbelievable. Strange times, really. Again, devesating that the building was demolished. I really wish that i could have visited such a place here in Clevo. Oh, under the postcard pic with the Plain Dealer quote…”talking pictures” do you mean “taking pictures”? That confused me.

  4. Avatar of rjprice88 rjprice88 says:

    It was interesting to learn about the history of dramatic entertainment as it moved as you mentioned from live-entertainment venues to motion pictures venues. With the $2,000,000 price that it cost to build during that time in the early 1900’s, it must have been a sight to see in its prime. It’s a shame that the theater industry transformed so quickly in the early 1900’s because the hippodrome seems like it would have been an amazing place to watch a show. It would have been cool to see it get preserved into a landmark where we could visit today instead of being demolished. Excellent work and a very informative detailed description and great images

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