More than 850 people have signed on to a petition to save the Cleveland Play House in a campaign launched last week after news broke that the Cleveland Clinic intends to demolish the 300,000-square-foot complex
built in 1983 by renowned architect Philip Johnson.
The Clinic's long-term plan for the 11-acre site at E. 86th and Euclid is unknown and will likely intertwine with development goals for the so-called "Innovation District." But many of those who signed the petition were angered that the short-term plan is to use the site for expanded street parking and a staging area for construction materials. The Clinic has not responded to Scene's request for a statement, but when NEO Trans broke the story, it reported that the hospital never found a regular use for Cleveland Play House after the eponymous theater company vacated it in 2011 and relocated to the Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square.
The Clinic has owned the building since 2009 and has used it irregularly for police trainings and seminars.
The petition organizer, Bridget Chebo Enggasser, told Scene she was inspired to take action after seeing several of her friends in the local theater community lament the Clinic's decision on social media. She said the petition was in honor of the hundreds of actors, volunteers and patrons "who appreciate the legacy of CPH, the nation's longest running professional theater."
Enggasser was born in the North Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland and grew up in Euclid. She said that as a kid, she took field trips to see plays at the Cleveland Play House and then went on to perform at community theaters across the region herself. While she never performed at CPH, she was a season ticket holder for many years. The 38-year-old now lives in Virginia and remains an ardent supporter of Cleveland's arts and culture scene. She argued that saving the Cleveland Play House was vital both on the basis of historic preservation and support of the arts.
"It troubles me to see so many gems of Cleveland’s history fall to the wrecking ball," Enggasser wrote to Scene in an email. "This past June, the historic Allen-Sullivan house was demolished. Before that, in 2020, the Clinic demolished the historic Orca house. As the Clinic, a non-profit, has amassed tons of property and billions of dollars throughout the past several decades, they have failed to be an adequate steward in the neighborhood where they reside. Crime, poverty and poor health still plague residents of this neighborhood despite the Clinic's claim to be a benefit to the community. It’s up to the community to act when the City won’t."
Engasser said she has contacted both the Cleveland Landmarks Commission and the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, asking that Johnson's Cleveland Play House building receive historic preservation status. She has reached out to the Cleveland Clinic's real estate office but has received no formal response.
Dozens of Cleveland theater supporters quickly signed the petition, criticizing the Clinic in comments and mourning the loss of local landmarks in recent years. More than 100 people, on average, have signed the petition each day since its launch.
"The Cleveland Clinic has a responsibility [to] the community to be a good neighbor," said one signer. "Destroying significant landmarks to Cleveland hurts the community. Its not good public policy, it is not good PR. And it's a spit in the eye to the community that the clinic was chartered to serve."
"This building holds so much history for me and countless others," said another. "Yes, medicine is important, but art should not have to give way to parking!"
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