The Variety Theatre Is One of Cleveland's Most Famous Haunted Theaters

Ralph DiMatteo Culture History

Variety Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio

Luxurious theaters with their large seating capacities were a staple in the Cleveland area as far back as the 1920s. I myself grew up with one in Maple Heights - the Mapletown Theater.

Most started out as single-screen movie houses that were beautifully designed and decorated to be as much a part of the evening out as the show itself. Many, sadly, have met the wrecking ball over time, not able to compete with the emergence of multi-screen theaters. Others have been reimagined and reinvented and another, the Variety Theatre at 11817 Lorain Avenue, is getting closer to a rebirth of its own.

Here is a bit of the theater's haunted history.

The Variety, approaching its 100th birthday (according to records, the space was built/opened in 1924), is on the National Record of Historical Places and is a Cleveland City Landmark that began as a single-screen theater with a 1,900-seat capacity.

Warner Bros. purchased the property in 1929 and operated it until 1954, leading to its first rebirth as a live music venue through the 70s and 80s.

Today, through the diligence of the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre, and aggressive fundraising, the theater continues to move closer to another go as an entertainment venue, but not before we take time to share a bit of its haunted history with you.

Patrick Colvin, a founder of the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre, said in a past interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2018 that he enjoyed spending time at the theater alone, speaking with the ghosts, who were supportive of the efforts to restore the theater to its past glory, while also being a little apprehensive about once again sharing space with the living when events actually begin happening.

He said in that interview that at least 19 ghosts have come and gone and that he knew several by name, many who worked there as well as performed there.

Mentioned in that interview specifically was the “Woman in White” who roamed, or still roams, the back of the auditorium, perhaps rehearsing her lines as it was believed she was a performer. The other spirit Colvin mentioned was a stage rig worker who fell to his death in the 1930s and remains at the theater to help with the staging of events.

There have also been sightings of a man in the balcony peering down upon the theater with reddish-looking eyes. Perhaps most interesting is being able to hear many voices at a time periodically while on stage. The theory is that this is a variety of spirits still on duty helping to get the stage ready for a show.

Sadly, Colvin passed away in 2021 before seeing the dream of the group he helped found realized, but the torch has been passed to Kelly Flamos, former owner of Mahall's 20 Lanes, who took ownership of the complex in 2022.

Her feeling is that with Cleveland being the home of rock and roll, you can never have enough live music venues to support that title.

Not much other information could be found about the Variety’s resident spirits, but perhaps when it reopens - hopefully soon - new sightings and experiences will be reported.

(Photo source: Google)

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