For Sale: Cleveland's Only Philip Johnson Structure

The Cleveland Play House is selling its building, known for its Philip Johnson-designed addition.

Credit: Courtesy Cleveland Play House

The upcoming sale of a Cleveland theatre complex could mean the loss of its postmodern addition designed by Philip Johnson, Modernist pioneer and Cleveland native.

The Cleveland Play House could be purchased by the adjacent Cleveland Clinic, an organization that already has plans to demolish a 1930s-era office building as part of its expansion plan, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Johnson addition to the Play House complex was completed in 1983, at the height of Johnson's historicist postmodern period. The rotunda lobby with a neo-Byzantine influence has led many to compare the building to his AT&T skyscraper in New York City. The Play House addition also has the distinction of being Johnson's only project in his home city.

While no official plans for alteration or demolition have been announced, the local preservation community is on alert. "It does seem to be quite a waste to throw the building away," says Kathleen Crowther, executive director of the Cleveland Restoration Society.

Part of the danger to the Play House is that it isn't listed as a landmark locally or nationally. It also occupies a space between the Midtown and University Circle design review districts, which means that anything proposed for the property will receive less scrutiny than it would in either of the two districts.

The Play House's theater group will be moving into the Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. There is still hope for the Play House's soon-to-be-vacant building, but Heritage Ohio board member and Cleveland-area preservation architect Yolita Rausche warns, "It is an issue that will affect tremendously the changing urban fabric of the city of Cleveland and its cultural institutions."


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