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New owners setting the stage for a rebirth of venerable Variety Theatre

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Posted at 9:34 PM, May 05, 2022

CLEVELAND — Closed for more than three decades, the historic and venerated Variety Theatre on Cleveland’s west side is poised to regain its place as a neighborhood cornerstone after recently being sold to former Mahall’s owner, Kelly Flamos.

After first touring the property a little under a year ago, Flamos formally acquired the expansive theatre complex off Lorain Avenue near West117th Street earlier this week. Built in the 1920s, Variety Theatre has long been a target of a community preservation effort, spearheaded by the Friends of Historic Variety Theatre, Westown Community Development Corporation and former Ward 11 Councilwoman Dona Brady, among others.

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After selling her stake in Mahall’s last year, Flamos parlayed the proceeds into acquiring the Variety Theatre property, which also includes roughly a dozen apartment units and several street-level retail spaces.

Although Flamos stresses that the preservation and adaptive re-use of the property will require significant investment and require time, her vision for the historic property will revolve around the simple premise of bringing people together.

“It’s beautiful. It’s opulent and elegant. The stage just makes your jaw drop. I see making it a place for creative expression again,” Flamos said. “At the end of the day, it’s about reimagining this historic landmark for 2022. The goal is to keep it here for another 100 years.”

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Upon touring the property last winter, Flamos conceded that, initially, she thought the project’s size and scope may be too large to handle. Over time, however, preliminary plans started coming together.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Flamos said. “People believed in me and I believe in this project so I think it’s possible.”

Built in 1924, the Variety theatre was one of five movie theatres in the area around that area of town. It was, however, the largest by a wide margin. In its infancy, the theatre existed solely as a movie theatre until it began to also be used as a concert venue in the 1970s. The Variety theatre was a must-stop location for notable rock and heavy metal acts, including Slayer, Metallica, Megadeath and others. The venue took on renewed fame in 1984 after Motorhead’s ear-busting performance was so loud that it reportedly cracked the plaster in the ceiling.

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The theatre closed a few years later and, more recently, had fallen into foreclosure.

“Today is victory day for the Variety and a victory day for the neighborhood. It’s not the end; it’s the beginning,” said Councilman Brian Mooney (Ward 11). “Variety is a whole city block and it will be transformational for the neighborhood. I am so excited that so many people in this neighborhood have worked and are able to bring this to the finish line for the neighborhood. It’s going to bring arts, performances. It’s a shot in the arm to really reinvigorate the neighborhood.”

Despite its age and the venue being closed for more than three decades, the bones of the theatre remain in relatively good condition. Although it appears there has been some water damage in various small locations inside the 2000-seat theatre, the visually-striking plaster detail on the ceilings and walls remain intact.

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“What’s so exciting about it is how beautiful it is,” Flamos said. “To me, it’s like a no-brainer: we have to save this theatre. We have to get people in here, right? It’s going to be a long journey but I think if you just look at what has happened the past 20 years, the amount of people that have been fighting to save this theatre, there is so much support for it. I just see people celebrating here.”

There is no timetable for construction; Flamos said she plans on meeting with an architect in the coming weeks. The initial plan could involve a renovation of the second-floor apartment units and retail spaces before work begins on the larger — and costlier — theatre.

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Flamos knows the community is beyond enthusiastic to see the theatre in use again but asks for their patience. Preservation requires time and careful thought, she said.

“I see it being what it used to be: an anchor for the neighborhood,” Flamos said.