The Variety Theater

The Variety Theater in Cleveland, OH is a rare success story in a city that has already lost too much history. Built as a movie theater in 1927, the Variety could seat nearly 2,000 on two levels, and featured storefronts and apartments.

While it was originally built as a movie theater, by the 1980’s it had been converted into a music venue. Bands including Metallica and R.E.M. played to packed houses, leading to complaints from neighbors about the noise. A December 2nd, 1984, concert by legendary British rock band Motorhead not only set a record for loudest show in the world at 130 decibels, but also caused the ceiling to crack and brought down some of the plaster.

Motorhead may have signaled the beginning of the end for the Variety, which was shut down by court order in 1986. After a brief stint as a venue for an independent wrestling promotion, the theater was more or less abandoned by 1990.

In 2009, the vacant theater was bought by a nonprofit that wanted to use it for community events. The group struggled to obtain funding, eventually turning over responsibility for renovating the building to The Friends of the Variety Theater. After securing grants and loans, limited renovation has begun, starting with the reconstruction of the theater’s marquee, which had been destroyed by a tornado in 1953. The project, which includes shops, a restaurant, and movie theater is projected to cost $15 million.