Huntington Playhouse Stories: View From The Tower

The water tower on the Huntington estate.

Part one of a multi-part series reflecting on the history of Huntington Playhouse, which will close at the end of this year after nearly six decades as the home of community theater in Bay Village.

On Saturday evenings, John enjoyed looking through his telescope from his perch on the water tower that had been built to irrigate the vineyards and orchards located on the 100-acre parcel of land where he would spend weekends. He looked over the gray-green water speckled with seagulls that appeared like white dots on the surface. Even on clear days, he could not view the shore that was miles past the horizon in front of him.

The winds shifted and the water moving as if breathing deeply, reminded him of the voyage he had taken after his 20th birthday with his brother Hugh. Together the Huntington brothers left their family home in England and started a roofing business in America. Turning his telescope away from the sunset, John could see the city where he became a wealthy man.

The roofing business had done well for the two brothers. One particular client offered to pay them with a combination of cash and company stock in exchange for re-roofing his factory. John accepted and the stock performed extremely well.

In 1863, 11 years after he had landed in Cleveland, John Huntington became a partner in Standard Oil Company with his former client, John D. Rockefeller. Coupled with his natural desire to tinker and create, John Huntington brought about changes in the oil refining business that made them wealthy men.

The fortune they created seemed infinite and, like many wealthy industrialists, the oil men built weekend homes away from the bustling and polluted city where they worked. Unlike Rockefeller, who moved East to the Forest Hills/Cleveland Heights area, Huntington ventured West to Dover Township on the shore of Lake Erie, which would later become Bay Village.

Even without his telescope, John Huntington could see ”His Kingdom” as he looked east –- the thriving industrial city of Cleveland from which he received and returned so much as he served on City Council for 12 years, helping to create a city sewer system and full-time fire department. He also improved the municipal water system and deepened the Cuyahoga River for improved transportation as well as constructing the Superior Viaduct. A plaque at the south entrance to the Cleveland Museum of Art commemorates a trust he established for the museum. He also created what is now known at the John Huntington Fund for Education.

Turning away from the lake on his water tower perch, John could look over the orchard toward the barn where his estate's caretaker, Charles, would feed the horses he raised.

A lot has changed since the late nineteenth century when John Huntington looked upon his barn from the top of his water tower. In 1925, 32 years after his death, his property was purchased by the Cleveland Metroparks. The well-appointed three-story “cottage,” as it was called because it had no basement, had burned down five years earlier.

In the late 1950s, the old carriage barn on the former Huntington estate was slated to be demolished but a man named Holt Brown approached the Metropolitan Park Board and requested that the structure be converted into a theater for the community of Bay Village. The barn served as a community theater for 12 years until it was consumed by fire.

The following year, in 1971, the current Huntington Playhouse was constructed on the site where John Huntington's barn once stood.

This past August, the Cleveland Metroparks announced their decision not to renew the lease on the Huntington Playhouse. The final day of operation for the theater is Dec. 31.

I encourage you to go see a show at the Huntington Playhouse to show your support for all of the good people that worked hard to bring you this final season.

Citizens For Bay Village Community Theater is a recently formed organization that plans to continue the tradition of quality community theater in Bay Village established by Holt Brown and continued by Marty Schickler, James “Bud” Binns, Arthur Clark, and the current managing director, Tom Meyrose. We are establishing working relationships with community civic groups, not-for-profit organizations, government, and businesses in Bay Village to provide a true community effort to keep community theater an active and vital part of our city. Currently we have established a dialogue with the Metroparks board and are working to develop a proposal that will allow community theater to remain on the Huntington Reservation.

Join our Facebook group Citizens For Bay Village Community Theater or contact us at bay.village.community.theater@gmail.com for updates and our meeting schedule. 

Patrick M Meehan

Patrick is a member of the newly formed Citizens for Bay Village Community Theater. An organization whose goal is to continue to provide Community Theater and Theater Education for the City of Bay Village.

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Volume 7, Issue 20, Posted 10:15 AM, 10.20.2015