Few cities in the United States have received as bad a reputation as Cleveland, Ohio, the so-called "mistake on the lake," notable to most only for its bad weather and its even worse sports franchises. What most people do not know, however, is that at one time Cleveland was one of the foremost economic capitals of the world - the home of John D. Rockefeller, Henry Sherwin and Louis Severance, it marked the largest industrial hub in the country outside of New York itself, and had an entertainment scene impressive enough to meet the needs of its millionaire residents.
Since the Gilded Age, the city has, admittedly, fallen on harder times. But nevertheless, many of the cultural institutions from the 19th century remain, which, combined with some new contributions, mark Cleveland as one of largest and most underrated cultural hot-spots in the country. Listed below are five of the reasons Cleveland is the entertainment capital you never knew about, ripe for exploration by any traveler adventurous enough to take a chance on it.
5. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The first item on the list is also the most obvious. Opened in 1995 by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, the "Rock Hall" marks a must-see destination for anyone interested in Rock & Roll, music, or pop culture in general.
And the museum does not disappoint. Designed by Chinese architect I.M. Pei (most famous for his construction of the giant glass pyramid in front of the Louvre), the building's exhibits sprawl over seven floors, cataloguing music history from the 1880s, when Rhythm and Blues was king, all the way to the 1990s, when grunge took over the airwaves and the alternative movement was formally inaugurated.
Of particular note is the collection of Rock & Roll memorabilia in the basement (including Michael Jackson's famous white glove from "Billie Jean" and John Lennon's original copy of the lyrics to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"). It is also worth checking the website (www.rockhall.com) before going - the museum's rotating exhibits are always extensive and interesting, including huge retrospectives on acts as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, the Clash, and the Doors.
Tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are $22.
The Museum is open every day from 10 am - 5:30 pm, and on Wednesdays until 9 pm
The next item on the list is a little more underground. Nevertheless, the Cleveland Institute of Art's "Cinematheque" offers what the New York Times called one of the country's "best repertory movie theaters."
Showing primarily alternative, art, and indie films, along with a selection of documentaries and revived classics, Cinematheque offers some of the most interesting and thought-provoking movies available today and in an environment that only Cleveland can offer. The venue just exudes "high art," the kind of massive, magisterial theater you'll never forget, even after you cannot remember what you saw there.
Also, for those springtime visitors to the city, Cinematheque is a proud partner of the world-renowned "Cleveland International Film Festival," an event usually held in late-March that brings some of the most innovative and avant-garde directors, writers, and critics together for a celebration of movies spanning countries, continents, and languages. But whether the film festival is there or not, one thing is certain - seeing a movie at Cinematheque is something any visitor to Cleveland will not want to miss.
Tickets to films shown at Cinematheque are $9.
3. The Cleveland Museum of Art
This item shows, yet again, Cleveland's capacity for international renown even in those areas where you'd least expect it. Indeed, along with modern tributes to movies and music, Cleveland also has one of the best and most important art museums in the country, boasting works from artists as diverse as Caravaggio, David, and Monet.
Situated in the heart of Cleveland's "University Circle" the museum is clearly a vestige of the city's more affluent past - its $600 million dollar endowment marks it as one of the wealthiest museums in the country, and enables it to maintain both a massive permanent collection (whose "Egyptian" and "East Asian" holdings match any museum in the country), as well as a strong cast of rotating exhibits, cataloguing the details of topics like Roman Archaeology and Picasso's "blue" period.
Worth particular attention is the newly constructed atrium, which beautifully blends the neo-classical architecture of the original museum with a more modern proclivity for glass and steel, and the "armor" room, whose collection of decorative and functional medieval military equipment is sure to leave your jaw on the floor.
Admissions to the Cleveland Museum of Art is free
The Museum is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10 am - 5 pm
on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 am - 9 pm, and is closed on Mondays
2. Playhouse Square
Playhouse Square, the penultimate item on the list, marks not only another hidden treasure of Cleveland's art scene, but also, more broadly, one of the most important centers for theater and the arts around the world.
The second largest theatrical complex in the country (outside of New York) Playhouse Square's nine theaters sprawl over two city blocks, casting an impressive shadow of cultural sophistication that the rest of the city can't help but take note of. From travelling Broadway revivals (ranging from such classics as "The Lion King" and "Les Miserables") to original, Cleveland-based productions, only one thing is sure: when you go to see a show at Playhouse Square, you're never going to forget it.
Particularly interesting are the Palace and Hanna Theatres, venues which stand out even in the company of the rest of the complex for their own unique personality and character. Insiders also recommend you pay a visit to the Michael Symon restaurant "Lola" before your show - just a block away from the theatres, the restaurant is one of the most successful and delicious in Cleveland, ensuring you have a full and happy stomach before your performance of choice.
Tickets to shows at Playhouse Square vary, but generally range from $30 - $110
1. The Cleveland Orchestra
And, in the number one spot ... the Cleveland Orchestra, definitively one of the most impressive things about the city, and one of the things the fewest people really know about.
It is not an exaggeration, for example, to say that the Cleveland Orchestra is world-famous. On the contrary, according to the British music periodical "Gramophone," the Cleveland Orchestra ranks as the seventh best in the world, topping every single United States orchestra outside of Chicago.
But the orchestra has more to offer than just name-recognition - in its current incarnation, under the directorship of Austrian-born Franz Welser-Möst, it offers some of the most innovative programs in classical music today, reconciling tradition with the modern avant-garde, Ludwig van Beethoven with John Cage.
And the location of the orchestra is, likewise, unforgettable. The remarkable Severance Hall stands at the very crest of "University Circle," a monument to everything Cleveland used to be in its hey-day, and still could be, if only it could get its act together.
For that reason, combined with the unbelievable quality of the music itself, the Cleveland Orchestra marks the number one reason Cleveland is not only the entertainment capital you never knew about, but also the entertainment capital you should get to know.
Tickets to the Cleveland Orchestra vary, but generally range from $40-$100.