Mansfielders of today might not recognize the original name of this familiar building, which celebrated its 100th birthday in October of this year.
On Sunday, October 10, 1920, the Grace Gospel Tabernacle was dedicated at 95 East Third Street in downtown Mansfield. The congregation, which had been founded just four years previously, was enthusiastic about their new building — which was already a bit snug.The sanctuary was billed as seating some 600 persons, with original descriptions noting the innovation of two heaters to keep attendees warm in winter months. On that first Sunday, there were 351 in attendance in Sunday School! Not only was the congregation a strong and growing one, it had already sent and support nine missionaries in its four years of operation — including to South China, Sierra Leone, Alabama, and South Dakota.
By 1941, the congregation was part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, and remodeling was needed. Now housing what was referred to as Grace Gospel Church, a new auditorium area was built over the original basement. By 1967, the congregation was known as First Alliance Church, at which time it built a new church facility on Cook Road.
It was at this time that the local community theatre community found its new home.
In 1929 the Community Players had formed, first using a stage at John Simpson Junior High School and practicing in a room over the Leland Hotel Garage. They were joined about 1950 by the Mansfield Little Theatre, which had similarly temporary facilities in the old washhouse behind the Children’s Home.
The two entities joined forces, and bought and remodeled the Grace Gospel Tabernacle at a cost of $80,000. Drapes and chandeliers were imported from the Leland Hotel. The company and building were renamed as the Mansfield Playhouse, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary as Ohio’s second oldest continuously producing community theatre.
The brick structure was built in the “tabernacle” form of church architecture, with a rectangular sanctuary which echoed the original Hebrew tabernacle design. A front portico framed three entrance doors, separated by two story engaged columns with decorative stone trim.
Sources: Mansfield Playhouse website, Mansfield News Journal, Wikipedia