Postscript: ‘Cleveland’s Neighborhood Movie Houses’
It’s not every day you set out to take a stroll down memory lane and find yourself in the middle of a busy highway. That’s pretty much what happened earlier this week after I reminisced in my blog about Cleveland’s old neighborhood movie theaters. I shared the post on the Facebook page Growing Up on the West Side of Cleveland. During the next 24 hours, about 200 people lit up the post with comments, sharing their memories of Cleveland’s movie houses.
A spontaneous dialogue erupted among people of widely varying ages and backgrounds. Some merely listed the movie theaters they frequented while others shared memories of the good times, the movies they saw and even their favorite theater snacks. Others posted pictures — including some wonderful old black and white photos.
Those who were content just to name their favorite movie houses contributed small but significant brushstrokes in a panorama of the bygone days of Cleveland cinema. By creating a mental map of the locations of theaters they listed, you could pretty much guess where they lived. Prior to the mid ’60s and the advent of malls, shopping centers and multiplexes, people walked to the movies for the most part. That’s why there were theaters in every neighborhood.
Some of the comments made me aware of theaters I never knew existed, even though they were within a few miles of my house. Some had gone out of business when I was a baby. Of course, many would follow over the years as the business model evolved to favor multiple-screen theaters and video rental.
If you’re curious, here are a few excellent online sources for Cleveland movie theater history: Cleveland and It’s Neighborhoods, Cinema Treasures and, for those who frequented the Variety Theater on Lorain Avenue, After the Final Curtain, Friends of the Historic Variety Theater and Westown Community Development Corporation.
I’ll share a few of the posts here, minus the names. I realize that people who post on Facebook shouldn’t expect anonymity, but I have a bad habit of respecting people’s privacy. (That was a serious handicap when I was a journalist.)
§ The Madison Theatre was where we, my brothers and I, went to the most. Loved those Slo Poke suckers.
§ I used to live on Rocky River Drive. Used to go to the Riverside often. Used to cut behind and down the alley to get to school. There used to be a little donut shop on Rocky River Drive very near Lorain Road. This little old man used to run it. He had to be close to 80, or at least it seemed so when I was a kid.
§ We did drive-in shows. Memphis, Autorama, Canal Road, Cloverleaf, Pearl Road.
§ Broadview Theatre, Canal Road Drive-In, Cloverleaf Drive-In, and Memphis Drive-In. I recall as a kid seeing the original “Night of the Living Dead” at the drive-in and being so very scared, even when I was in my own bedroom.
§ I miss the old theaters, sitting in the seat in front of the big screen and seeing a matinee … eating popcorn. Those were the days … smelling the popcorn popping. So sad it’s all gone now.
§ The Lorain Theater on 45th and Lorain. We called it the rat hole due to rats running across the stage when you were watching the movie. (I mentioned stories of rats in the previous blog post.)
§ The Lyceum. My mom worked there when I was a kid. My grandmother and I walked there every Saturday to see the movies. We lived on Storer Ave. Later it was the Stillman in downtown Cleveland and I worked at the candy counter as a teenager. Made 75 cents an hour, big bucks for a kid back then in the ’60s.
§ I loved the Garden on W. 25th, and next door was the caramel corn store! Yum!
§ My dad would tell us about the Willow Theatre. Unfortunately it burned down. In fact, growing up going to the movies was a very very special treat. Any time mom would say to dad, “You want to go to the movies?” Dad would reply, “Is it playing at the Willow?” Of course the answer would always be no, so (there would be) no movie night.
§ The Homestead Theater was on Detroit, just west of W. 117th. It closed in 1972, re-opened as the Showboat Cinema West from 1974 until 1975 and managed by my sister for a month, then re-opened in 1976 as The Last Picture Show until 1978, when it closed for good. I believe Phantasy uses the auditorium section for live concerts now.
§ The Garden Show at West 25th and Clark … Had my first date there when I was 14. (It was common then to call movie theaters “the show,” as in “We’re going to the show.” The term seems to have fallen into disuse.)
§ Almira until I was about 12 years old, then Variety. In high school, it was the Riverside every Friday night. Sometimes Saturday date nights were at the Palace, with a stage show.
§ Here are my childhood theaters. Broadview. We would walk from Denison (actually run) across the old bridge to the theatre. I recall going to the Denison and Garden theatres also. Next to the Broadview, though, we would walk up Archwood (Avenue) to Fulton Road and go to the Lyceum. As I recall they had a balcony in the back. I was young and was told that was the make out section.
§ Broadview Theatre. My aunt and uncle took me to see classics like “Charade” and “House on Haunted Hill.” I loved the scary and murder movies and still do!
§ The Lyceum. We were able to walk there from our house. Saw “The Ten Commandments” there. Oops, does that mean I’m kinda old? Ha ha. (My response: Not as long as you weren’t around for the event on which the movie was based.) Her second comment in response to mine: Oh wow, didn’t realize it came out 1956, which is the year I was born. Think I was around 10 years old when seeing it at the Lyceum, so (that would be) about 1966 or ’67.
§ Mostly the Lyceum. Sometimes the Broadview. I got to go to the Hippodrome downtown once with my older brother and sister to see “Ben-Hur” when it first came out.
§ (Comment from a female) Paris Art Theatre, W. 25th Street. Just kidding. Variety Theatre on Lorain Avenue.
§ The Detroit Theater in Lakewood on Richland Avenue. My grandfather was the projectionist until 1973.
§ Madison Theatre, W. 95th & Madison. Grew up on W. 95th. Lots of memories of sneaking in the side doors. The best was going behind screen while a movie was playing. Fun memories!
§ Saw “Mary Poppins” at the Memphis Drive-In. We were in our pajamas, and the last scene I remember was the one with the chimney sweeps dancing on the rooftops. I still get that excited feeling when we watch that movie.
There you have it — in the words of the people who lived it.
Now that’s a tough act to follow.