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Spring 2001

"The Gordon Square Theater Murals"

In 2001 John received a commission to paint the walls surrounding the staircase well in the inner lobby of the Gordon Square Theater in Cleveland, Ohio. In every respect -scale, complexity, preparation, execution, exhibition and design, at the time this work was one of the most ambitious undertakings of its kind in this region of the United States.

When a renewed public appreciation for old theaters and movie houses took place across the country during the late 1980's, the trend for most of the artwork being done was one of "restoration". Preservation of what had been originally done inside these structures was the rule and most of the artistic restoration was of decorative elements.

john rivera-resto in 2002, cleveland, ohio caption for left side images -centered

What makes the restoration of the Gordon Square Theater unique -a work that is still very much in progress as of this writing, was not the decision to simply restore decorative elements, but, to the decision to "create" new art for a modern audience in the grand style of a Golden Era. Once the facts that lead to this decision and its execution are known, you will realize how difficult but momentous this decision was. What follows is an account of this undertaking.

But fortunately for Mr. Levin, he already new the painter for the task, John Rivera-Resto, an artist and personal friend who had already achieved notoriety for his magnificent "Thinkers Mural" at Cleveland's Playhouse Square. Schooled in the style and traditional techniques of renaissance art and the French neoclassical style, with thirty years of mural painting experience under his belt, Rivera-Resto is considered by many as one of the top muralist in the United States. And as luck would have it, John was also a Cleveland native.

james levin and volunteers in the 1980s

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Preliminary Work, Conception and Design

The walls that were destined to serve as the first canvases for murals at the Gordon were those enclosing the grand staircase in the inner lobby. But after decades of neglect they were in a bad state of repair. The original paint had flaked away and the plaster designs had crumbled in places beyond recognition. The ceilings were cracked and water damaged; the terrazzo floors were unleveled and full of crevices. The roof and windows had been fixed but the heating system had not been completed. Painting had to be postponed until proper ambient temperature could be maintained.

Funding Frustrations

Sadly, one of the realities of community organizations like the Cleveland Public Theater is that they are required to compete for public funding. The value of the work that the theater does in the community and in Greater Cleveland is immeasurable. But in spite of its overwhelming success with the public and the critics, funding for this type of art organization was at an all time low. This meant that work on the mural had to stop, often for too long a period.


The ceiling mural at the Gordon Square Theater lobby was completed on December 2004. The original plan was to continue the mural on the surrounding walls. However, the project was placed on hold due to a lack of funds, and in time, it was abandoned.

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