Photographer journeys inside formerly-abandoned theater

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- An Ohio City photojournalist has taken new pictures inside the formerly-abandoned Variety Theater.

The west side theater, located at the corner of West 118th Street and Lorain Avenue, was built in 1927 and fell into disrepair. It was originally built as a vaudeville house.

Nearly 70 images taken by Seph Lawless illustrate the beauty of the theater which, according to him, hosted the likes of Metallica and other heavy metal bands in the 80's.

The Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre is dedicated to turning the structure around. According to their Facebook page, the group is "a non-profit organization whose mission is the successful restoration and operation of the Variety Theatre."

Lawless says he will release an e-book and donate all of the proceeds to the restoration of the theater. "There's nothing more surreal being in a theater quite like this," Lawless told Channel 3's Hilary Golston, "especially with the ornate ceilings and the architecture."

Lawless, who uses the pseudonym, considers himself a political activist. He has moved across the United States taking pictures of many abandoned structures and wrote the book "Autopsy of America" in 2013 explaining "the plight of Americans and the devastating effects that globalization has had on American cities."

Lawless's images appeared in projects WKYC has produced on the state of abandoned malls in Northeast Ohio. The work was wildly popular online.

To view more of Seph's work, visit his website:

Patrick Colvin, board member of the Friends of the Historic Variety Theater and Westown Community Development Corporation, says the project has been a continuing labor of love.

Colvin tells Golston "the Friends" acquired the theater in 2009, but the renovation of the theater fell by the wayside after funding dried up.

The non-profit is composed of about a half dozen board members who are working to acquire state historic tax credits to help fund the estimated $12.5-million to $15-million project.

The property takes up a city block. It includes eight store fronts, 13 apartments upstairs and a full theater.

The organizations are working closely with developers who've worked on the Gordon Square Arcade and Capitol Theater renovations.

Like these projects from Cleveland's past, Colvin hopes to create an economically viable and productive reuse of the facility --- including a film component and other entertainment. The details on the "variety" portion are still in flux.

Colvin says the 13 apartments will likely be renovated into 10, for a modern day facility. He says Lawless's pictures will likely be used in other ways to help raise money for the re-development project.

A fabricated marquee containing 2,280 LED bulbs is currently in production in Elyria. The display was built to look exactly like the original. Organizers hope to have a marquee lighting ceremony sometime this summer.

Follow WKYC's Hilary Golston on Twitter: @HilaryWKYC


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