Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Only echoes in old theaters

Cleveland Press April 15, 1971

There is a hollow echo to your footsteps as you walk through old Loew's State Theater. The echo in the Ohio next door has a faster reverberation, probably because of the lower ceiling in the lobby.

The State is cold. The Ohio is colder.

There is the smell of dampness in both. The clutter backstage and in the dressing rooms at the Ohio look as though people left in the midst of the action, without t h e planning and cleaning that go with premeditated moves.

THE CINERAMA screen at the State is made of narrow ribbons and if you couldn't tell this before, you can now. Many of the ribbons are torn and hang loose. At the Ohio the solid screen is one fourth missing the quarter in the right corner -- big enough to walk through.

The nearby Allen looks less ghost-like. The seats are still there, it is warmer, there are no signs of damage or desertion.

"Did you know there are stained glass windows behind those curtains?" my guide asked me as we stood in the main auditorium of the Allen. I didn't know. I'm a native Clevelander.

MY GUIDE has been in Cleveland for two weeks. He's a native of Ashland and has lived for the past 10 years in Columbus.

Weldon Carpenter is a collector of theater memorabilia. On the strength of the plans of the Playhouse Square Assn. he quit his job as a gourmet chef in Columbus and came north. He is here to plan a theater museum which will go into the Allen Theater -- among other things.

The Allen, according to the plans drawn up by Geary, Moore and Aherns, will have three theaters -- two on the main floor and one in the balcony. Carpenter's museum will be on the mezzanine level of the lobby rotunda.

"THIS PLACE was built by an outfit in Pennsylvania," Carpenter continued, "by a couple of brothers named Allen."

The windows he referred to are hidden by curtains and are in the false boxes on both sides of the proscenium arch. He had climbed a ladder to take a look, explained that the intent was to have lights behind the windows.

"I've been collecting junk for 22 years," he continued. "That's what people call it. I started when they tore down the opera house in Ashland.

"The collection was to go into the Ohio Theater in Columbus, but that was 10 years off. Then I heard what was being done here and I was promised that the museum would be free to the public.

"Jane Powell is interested in the collection and she had me on the Mike Douglas show with her last June. She's promised to be here when the museum opens.

CARPENTER'S collection consists of stage material from 1890 to the present, old vaudeville magazines, motion picture magazines dating back to 1911, posters and programs.

"Most people don't realize movie magazines go back that far," he commented. "I wouldn't buy any of the movie magazines that are out today. They're just trash."

Carpenter shares a corner of the office space the Playhouse Square Assn. has taken in the Bulkley Bldg. with Ray K. Shepardson, the organizer of the group, and Bert LeGrand who is busy contacting prospective members. To be a founding member costs $120 and life membership is free.

Basis of Shepardson's plan to rejuvenate Playhouse Square is to turn the State into a vast night club on the main floor, tier the balcony for dining, bar and cocktail seating and turn the lobby into a supper club and restaurant.

THE OHIO would become a legitimate theater (which it was originally) and the Allen would be converted into three movie theaters.

That's phase one. Phase two, hopefully no later than a year after that, would be to refurbish the Palace to be used as a theater, concert hall and opera house.

The theory is that the restaurant and nightclub profits would subsidize the theatrical end of the operation.

SHEPARDSON is now getting construction bids hoping that the sum needed will be somewhere around $3,500,000.

One little-publicized phase of the plan is an old-fashion snack lounge in one corner of the Allen lobby with five-cent popcorn.

Five-cent popcorn might do more to get people back downtown than anything else.