With its understated exterior of beige brick, fronted with vacant retail and derelict apartments, the historic Euclid Theater in East Cleveland, Ohio had its beginnings at the busiest street corner west of New York City.
I paid a visit to the Euclid Theater in East Cleveland during an early morning and was amazed at how far it had deteriorated. Stepping gingerly over gaping holes in the stage floor, I was careful not to fall into the dank and dark basement. In this part of the city, who knew what remained in the pit below. I walked out into the seating area, where the original plaster ceiling was still visible – partly blocked by a false ceiling, looking up towards what remained of the roof.
It was a ruinous shell that had a story that is too familiar to the demise of community theaters nationwide.
Long abandoned for decades, the Euclid Theater filled in the rear of the Ivanhoe Square development. The single floor movie house boasted 1,000 seats and an interior adorned in the “oriental Japanese” scheme. But the project, developed by Joseph Lorange, had its beginnings at East 9th Street and Chester Avenue in downtown.
The original Euclid Theater, located at the corner of East 9th Street and Chester Avenue in downtown, was previously home to the Cyclorama. The building was extensively reconstructed and partly rebuilt to house retail and office space, and a 1,600-seat theater. It was in operation for only a few years when it was razed for a high-rise.
Despite installing the latest Western Electric “talkie picture” devices, the Euclid Theater could not compete with television broadcasting, quickly becoming the dominant entertainment medium.
It’s decline mirrored that of countless movie houses in the United States. Weekly attendance at such venues peaked at 90 million in 1946 before dipping to 60 million in 1950. By 1956, attendance was down by nearly 50% from its peak just a decade earlier. The conclusion of World War II meant that Americans had readily accessible disposable income, spent increasingly on televisions and other newfound gadgets. In 1948, there were only 20 commercial television stations, with no broadcasting in the south and next-to-nothing west of the Mississippi at a time when there were only 300,000 television units. By 1950, there were 7.3 million television units and multiple channels to choose from.
The advent of suburban development hastened the decline of theaters in inner-cities, like East Cleveland. Families could now spend less of their overall income on televisions and the programming they offered and not pay inflated prices for movie houses that were owned or managed by monopolies. It was also a far shorter commute to the couch in the living room than the drive to the theater.
With all that, the Euclid Theater bowed out in 1950.