The living are not the only ones excited about the restoration of this favorite place.
Some spectral thespians are not ready to get off the stage.
Former spectral employees are ready to find themselves new jobs here.
Being an accident victim doesn’t stop the offering of advice on a professional level.
All the quotes in this section came from the website historicstructures.com.
The 1927 Variety Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio is described as being “a 2,000-square ft Spanish Gothic vaudeville and movie house.”
It is the nearest structure to the intersection of Lorain Avenue and W 18th Street. It is connected to the block long, two-story store space and tenant apartments. The name of the building is the Variety Store Building and Theatre.
It is one of the few remaining commercial use/theatre structures on Cleveland’s West Side, a well-to-do area in the 1920s.
Variety Theatre was built with brick, concrete, and steel. Its shape is an “irregular trapezoid, with the facade measuring around 230 feet, the rear elevation 210 feet, and the east and west elevations 170 feet and 78 feet.”
From the facade, people can enter the theatre lobby and have access to the Variety building’s ten stores along Lorain Avenue.
The two-story Variety was the largest theatre of its kind, west of Ohio’s Cuyahoga River. Built to impress, the show started when patrons walked into the foyer. People marveled at cut-glass chandeliers, tapestries, marble and brass ornamentation, and raised plaster decor on the walls and ceiling.
The auditorium is rectangular, being eighty-one feet, by one hundred and two feet.
The auditorium had three aisles, with 1150 seats on the main floor, and 350 balcony seats. The stage was big enough for live acts, with an orchestra pit and dressing rooms off the stage. A screen could be pulled down for both silent movies and “talkies.” There was a large Kimball organ as well.
Its awe-factor is currently a shell of what it once was like, but its future is certain! Some of its features are still intact, “virtually unaltered.”
The “smoky arc of mirrors” that makes the lobby look bigger than it is, the lobby’s ceiling, and the unique cut-glass chandelier still survive. The lobby’s “arched ornamental plaster ceiling of three bays, frame a giant semi-elliptical window on the front wall which fills the entire width the lobby.”
A backstage area has three dressing rooms. The stage was made bigger for the rock band era by building a fore stage over the original orchestra pit.
All the chairs in the first level of the auditorium had to be removed. The auditorium ceiling is still impressive, with its expansive grandeur decor still remaining. According to historicstructures.com, “The ceiling is a flattened vault with seven transverse bays which meet the wall in groined arches. The three bays nearest the proscenium diminish in width and end in arched bays which have vestigial boxes.”
The three bays still have their raised plaster ribbing, that are in a diamond pattern.
The commercial part of this long building has ten storefronts on street level, and twelve apartments on the second story. The property’s designers added them to supplement the funds from theatre ticket sales, providing stronger economic security for future building owners. This strategy worked for a long time.
Each apartment has a suite with two to five rooms, depending on the size of each unit. These apartments and the store spaces just need to be updated, as this part of the Variety Store Building is sturdy, and the planned renovation will make them once again good sources of revenue.
It has been a long journey of renewal over twenty years by several dedicated former owners, with the dream of making it a financial anchor for downtown Cleveland once again. Its strong structural bones make it a great candidate to be renewed and restored.
As of 2023, it is now a stabilized structure with some of the needed restoration done, including a new marque installed. However, a lot more is needed to bring her closer to her glory days, and revitalize the store spaces and apartments.
Since the total price tag to do so will be 12-15 million dollars, it will continue to take years to accomplish, though the Variety Building and Theatre can be renewed to the point of being used once again by the public, with commercial stores being reestablished, people moving into the apartments, and those who adore this grand but creaky historic theatre, sure to enjoy entertainment provided here once more.
Since April 29th, 2022, the new owner has been Kelly Flamos, who bought the property for $450,000. Kelly isn’t afraid of such an ambitious endeavor, as she has restored and renovated the Mahall Bowling Alley, turning it into a bar and music venue.
She is using the money from the sale of that project to restore the architecture of the historic building, and will open a performing arts venue here after needed renovations are done.
The focus will be on providing live music, from various kinds of bands, to concert series. Poetry, theater, and dance will also be offered to patrons, perhaps by community groups or guest artists, like many performance venues do. She doesn’t plan to replace the first-floor auditorium seats, to create a more versatile space for events.
She also intends to renovate the stores and apartments to bring them up to what is expected for prospective storeowners and tenants.
The theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so “special care will be taken to ensure the historic features are preserved, replaced and replicated throughout the building.” (https://westowncdc.org/variety_theatre.aspx)
The story of the Variety Theatre started as an inspiration of entrepreneurs Sam Stecker, Meyer Fine, and Abe Kramer, who envisioned a multiple-use building that also had a glorious theatre with some bling, but would display a “more restrained classical aspect of the 1920s movie theater style.” (Abandoned America Website).
It offered an escape from everyday life, without all the over-the-top exotic styles of the “atmospheric” movie palaces.
They hired a Cleveland architect, Nicola Petti, a successful designer of Cleveland theatres. It was well-designed to be both a performance and movie theatre, with a big enough stage to hold vaudeville performers and a screen and organ for silent films.
The Variety Theatre opened with great fanfare on November 24th, 1927, showcasing the first-ever “talkie,” feature-length film, “The Jazz Singer.” They also showed the film Hula, which was made by Clara Bow, who was a “notorious sex symbol of the Roaring Twenties.” (Abandoned America Website).
Some of the first tenants of the storefront spaces included “bakers, confectioners, the Wurlitzer Company, Piggly-Wiggly, a fruit merchant, and a milliner.” The second-story apartments had no trouble getting tenants. Perhaps, some of the storeowners lived above their businesses.
It was so successful as a money-making theatre complex, it was bought by Warner Brothers in 1929, and the theatre continued to be popular, especially when they had promotional events for the community. They had free Christmas parties for children from preschool to fifteen years old. Movies were shown and candy provided. A great time was had by all!
Film stars would make appearances to draw in people for events that benefitted various causes. The Abandoned America website reports,”Lon Chaney Jr. held a late-night screening of House of Dracula to raise funds for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars so that residents of a nearby county infirmary could have television sets.”
In 1951, a tornado came through town and ruined the vertical 1927 marquee sign, and it had to be taken down.
Warner Brothers sold the Theatre in 1954 for 500,000 dollars to in-town realtors. It became the home to the Community Circuit Theaters Company until 1976, when its age and poor repairs done in the past made it a good candidate for needed maintenance and restoration done right, though it had to wait for another owner.
In 1976, Russell Koz bought the property with a new dream for the Variety. It became a concert venue for metal/punk bands in the early 1980s. Such groups as R.E.M., the Dead Kennedys, Stevie Ray Vaughan, INXS, Metallica, Slayer, and Queensryche played on the Variety stage, much to the annoyance of the neighbors as the bands were not known for quiet, reflective music, but for loud and invasive sounds.
The performance that broke the camel’s back was the Motorhead concert in 1984, whose volume reached 130 decibels, causing plaster to float down onto the audience. To put an end of the endless encores, the maintenance man stopped their electrical power by shutting down the breaker box, a move that infuriated lead singer Lemmy Kilmister.
The neighbors had had enough of it, and filed complaints about the noise level, safety, and loitering by raucous individuals. One neighbor played a tape of the noise coming from a theatre stage performance that was recorded in his living room. As a result of these problems, the Variety Theatre was closed to any more concerts in 1986. Good-bye to that dream.
From 1986-1990, the theatre space was rented out to a wrestling gym, the Cleveland Wrestleplex. After they left, the theatre was closed and abandoned, until 2005 when it was needed again to be an economic anchor for the local depressed area that was losing its population.
The theory was that a restored venue would bring in people from the two neighboring neighborhoods, sparking a rebirth of the area. “Variety Theatre became the centerpiece of the Lorain Avenue Master Plan.”
The Westown Community Development Corporation started a non-profit, called “Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre,” and took control of the property in 2009, after raising the money to purchase it.
Patrick Colvin, the secretary of this non-profit, led the efforts to stabilize, and restore the much-loved theatre. On Valentine’s Day of 2015, the public left valentines taped to the door of the theatre, to show love and give encouragement.
With the help of large donations, and historic tax credits, restoration progress was made over the years, including the replacement of the theatre’s vertical marquee.
Patrick Colvin died in August of 2021. The Westown Community Development Corp. praised his accomplishments in their tribute to him.
“As a tireless and passionate advocate for this community and this organization, his leadership wisdom and guidance were instrumental in the successful private and public partnerships that leveraged over 10 MM dollars along Lorain Avenue. His successful dedication to educate the public on the history and value of preserving and restoring the Variety Theatre is important and integral to his legacy.”
In 2022, the property was in good enough shape to be sold to its new owner, Kelly Flamos, for 450,000 dollars.
She is a mover and a shaker, and will continue to restore and renovate the building and theatre into presentable condition, so she can rent the apartments, occupy businesses in the storefronts, and offer entertainment in the Variety Theatre of the Performing Arts. The income made from these endeavors will be used for further restoration efforts.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
People who enjoyed going to the theatre while alive, may continue to enjoy it as spectral patrons.
Kansas City Music Hall, MO (Spirits of past patrons still love to come and see the shows on stage).
Mabel Tainter Theatre, WI (Performers on stage have spied spectral patrons of the theatre enjoying the show).
The Paramount Theater, TX (Patron spirits enjoy both the stage performances and the films).
The Variety Theatre, OH (Spirits of theatre enthusiasts are content to relive their memories of past entertainment while they wait for the Variety to be opened once again).
Former professional behind-the-scenes theatre workers often want to contribute though they are in spirit form, so they volunteer.
Kalamazoo Theatre, MI (A volunteer, Thelma Merton, who helped with the back stage costumes and props while alive, isn’t letting the fact that she is a spirit now stop her from doing what she loved to do. She enjoys all aspects of theatre stage productions and loves to watch the performances as well).
Elsinore Theatre, OR (After several expensive restoration and renovation projects, the spirits of an owner and folks who loved working there, enthusiastically embraced the activities of the living).
Old Regent Theatre, MI (The spirit of a welcoming presence has been noticed in the lobby. He or she does not let the fact that he or she is in spirit form stop them from fulfilling their duties of hospitality. It is suspected that this spirit is Francis Falk, who worked up to his death in 1999. He had many jobs. He ran concessions, did cleanup, was in charge of maintenance, was the ticket-taker and of course was the projectionist).
Variety Theatre, OH (The spirits of former lighting and stage crews relive their work experience so they can apply for new positions when the theatre reopens. One spirit is already offering advice).
Spirits of former thespians often have the desire to be on stage once more.
Mantorville Opera House, MN (Prevalent, consistent paranormal activity point to spectral thespians who love the world of performing).
Rialto Theatre, IL (Spirits of thespians who still want to perform have made this place their home).
The Point Park University Pittsburgh Playhouse, PA (A spirit actor yearned to continue as a thespian).
Variety Theatre, OH (Two spirits of former performers still yearn for the stage experience).
People who die on the job sometimes return to try to find a way to continue working in their old field of employment.
Boulder Theatre, CO (The theatre manager, George Paper, died in an accident while trying to repair the lighting up in the catwalk. His spirit was determined to continue in the job he loved so much).
Union Train Station, UT (Frank Yentzer died in the falling stone accident, putting a sudden end to a life that he loved, with a job he enjoyed. His spirit still comes to work as a cashier in his old office on the second floor).
Albany State Capitol, NY (The spirit of security guard and night watchman Samuel Abbott was overcome by smoke in a 1911 fire, after making sure everyone got out of the building. He doesn’t want to accept that he died, and continues trying to carry on in a job he loved).
Variety Theatre, OH (The spirit who was a lead member of the theatre’s past stage and lighting crew, who probably directed them in their work, had a deadly accident, but is not deterred from continuing in doing his job for the living).
From the beginning of the restorations, spirits began to let the living know that they were there too, and very happy that the living once more were working on their beloved theatre.
Paul Corwin was the first person to realize that about nineteen spirit people were still in their favorite theatre. He reported that two spectral performers, spirits of past workers and spectral patrons, have made themselves known.
He knew the names of a dozen of them, as they told him their names. It seems that he may have had medium or clairvoyant abilities.
The lights turning off and on at will with no human help.
The doors will close and open by themselves, as spirits move around going about their business.
People hear loud, unexplainable noises.
Disembodied voices are heard throughout the building.
Patrick Colvin shares a time when he came into the lobby from the street.
He saw apparitions who were dressed in old-fashioned clothes, looking like living people, standing in the lobby, as if they were waiting for a show to begin.
At first, he thought they were real people and was puzzled, wondering how they got inside.
Something gave them away that they were spirits. Perhaps they were floating and had no feet, or simply disappeared.
The spirit of a former patron has been spotted, looking down from the upper balcony at all the restoration action and paranormal tours and investigations that have taken place.
This form of entertainment will do!
The Spirits of Former Performers
The spectral male and female thespians still are enjoying their memories of their performances, and are probably hoping to audition for future auditions planned by the living.
The female spirit, who calls herself Clara, wears a white dress and appears in the back of the auditorium, and sometimes in the lobby near the drinking fountain.
She was an actress who loved to perform on the stage here.
Sounds of disembodied singing, and dancing on stage may have been noticed.
Died on the Job
Sometime during the 1930s, a knowledgeable crew leader was on the upper level.
He lost his balance, fell onto a light bar and then tumbled to the stage where he died.
He continues to advise the living and the other spectral stage workers.
Patrick Colvin had an experience with him when he was up on the upper level, trying to pull the dead weights without getting hit by them.
A deep, disembodied voice instructed him, “Pull it now!” He did what he was told, and was successful.
Let Us Work Again – We’re ready!
Spirits of a former stage crew relive their former lives, preparing the stage and lights for performances.
The deep voice of the worker who died is right there in the middle of it.
Footsteps, disembodied voices giving directions, and noises of construction and moving heavy items may have been some of the sounds heard by the living.
Paul Colvin and other workers have had personal experiences with the spirits, and have reported feeling unseen presences, and other activity that points to spectral residents.
As early as 2018, ghost tours have come inside, and paranormal investigations have taken place. Needless to say, no one was disappointed with their personal experiences, and hard evidence gathered.
The theatre’s spectral residents offer the full paranormal sports package, feeling free to do so.
A huge Yes Indeed!
Not only living people adore this theatre, but also spirit people who worked here, or were patrons while alive, who enjoyed the entertainment offered in the auditorium. They can’t wait to see a new performing arts center rise from the once creaky building.
Many of them want to be involved as best they can, even in spirit form!
11817 Lorain Ave
Cleveland, OH 44111
The Variety Theatre is located on Lorain Avenue, at the corner of W 18th Street.
Variety Theater at top of Cleveland’s “haunted hot spots” after 19 spirits & specters spotted
by: Rachel Inch Posted: Oct 31, 2022 / 12:02 PM EDT
Updated: Oct 31, 2022 / 08:27 AM EDT
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr