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This is the Plain Dealer article referred to from the link in the previous post:
$7 million renovation of Capitol theater to begin
by Karen Sandstrom
The Plain Dealer
May 14, 2008 09:18A
On a rainy Cleveland evening in April 1921, hundreds of people gathered at West 65th Street and Detroit Avenue to celebrate the newly built Gordon Square Arcade and its attached movie theater, the Capitol.
After a few speeches and a tune from a six-piece orchestra, the Capitol screen lit up with its debut feature film, “The Inner Voice.” The female lead, actress Agnes Ayres, would lose her fortune years later in the stock market crash. But at the moment, the silent-film world still held promise, and she was a star.
A little of that 1921 excitement might be in the air at 4:10 p.m. Wednesday as community leaders in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood gather inside the Capitol to celebrate a $7 million project aimed at renovating the theater and invigorating the neighborhood.
Construction begins Thursday to turn the theater, empty for 23 years, into a three-screener specializing in independent films. It is slated to reopen in April 2009.
This marks the newest and largest investment to date in the Gordon Square Arts District.
The district is a roughly 24-block area shaping up as a Mecca for galleries, boutiques, eateries and theaters. The overall plan is to invest $30 million in creating a streetscape along Detroit, renovating Cleveland Public Theatre and building a new home for the Near West Theatre, a community theater that reaches out to disadvantaged youths.
Jeffrey Ramsey, executive director of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, says the Capitol is the cornerstone.
The hope is that 100,000 people will see movies there every year, he says. As an arts district, the neighborhood “needs an anchor, a catalyst.”
The Capitol will be owned by Detroit Shoreway and operated by Cleveland Cinemas, which runs the Cedar Lee Theatre and five others.
The intellectual menu will include the occasional big Hollywood movie.
And, like the Cedar Lee, the concessions menu will include locally baked pastries, fresh sandwiches and beer.
Ramsey, Cleveland City Councilman Matt Zone and Joy Roller, executive director of the Gordon Square Arts District, envision the Capitol as part of a little theater district that draws visitors who stay to dine and shop. They hope the cool factor will encourage brain-gainers to buy some of the area’s new houses.
The Capitol is also an important nod to the past. Zone says his grandparents lived on West 65th Street. His parents dated at the Capitol.
“To see new life being breathed into that place is just reinvigorating,” he said.
When the Capitol was unveiled in 1921, it boasted a single screen in a proscenium above a stage outfitted with a pipe organ — live musical enhancement for all that silent action onscreen. There were about 800 seats on the main floor and another 400, arranged on ascending steps, in the balcony.
Bare bulbs surrounded a wagon-wheel-style light fixture that illuminated an intricately painted ceiling — “the color scheme is old rose, ivory and gray,” reported the April 9, 1921, edition of The Plain Dealer. Plaster columns and painted medallions decorated the side walls. A second-floor mezzanine had a decorative fireplace.
When talkies supplanted silent films in the 1930s, much of the wall decoration was covered in fabric to improve acoustics. But the theater played on through the war years and after, as the area boomed with families.
In the 1970s, it closed for a while, then reopened showing films from eastern Europe. In the early 1980s, the Capitol also screened movies from the Cleveland International Film Festival.
The last performance was a vaudeville show presented by Cleveland Public Theatre in 1985.
In 1997, Detroit Shoreway, which by then owned the Capitol as well as the rest of the Gordon Square Arcade, secured $50,000 to stem decay of the theater (roof leaks had caused significant water damage), remove some of the debris and hire an architect to draw up preliminary plans for a renovated theater and street improvements along Detroit.
Those plans sat idle until recently, when the Gordon Square Arts District emerged to lead fund raising for arts investment in the neighborhood.
Of the $7 million that the renovation is expected to cost, $4.5 million comes by way of tax-credit equity.
In this case, investor National City Corp. recoups much of its money through federal New Market tax credits granted by the government to encourage improvements in low-income neighborhoods. Federal and state historic-district tax credits also have been granted.
Another $1.5 million comes as a 2 percent loan from the city of Cleveland; $500,000 is a Cleveland Foundation grant; $100,000 is a grant from the Finance Fund; and $360,000 comes from a county Commercial Redevelopment Fund grant.
Marous Brothers Construction, designer-builder of the renovation, will donate $100,000 in services.
Architect Chris Auvil, who works for Marous, said the theater has great presence.
“I love the neoclassical nature of it — the exuberance, the digging back into historical roots. It’s just a very elegant space,” he said.
“Although we will not be able to restore everything, we want to respect what’s there.”
When the job is done, the main theater will be outfitted with 400 plush seats with cupholders. The balcony will become two 100-seat theaters.
And there won’t be a hint of old-fashioned film. Cleveland Cinemas President Jonathan Forman said the Gordon will have all-digital technology. That makes for higher-quality viewing and allows the theater to show 3-D movies, live concerts by satellite and other nontraditional programs.
West Siders have long asked Forman to deliver something like the Cedar Lee a little closer to home, he said.
“I think the audience is big enough that it can support two [independent-film] theaters in two different parts of the city,” he said.
Eight months before Gordon Square and the Capitol Theatre first opened back in the ‘20s, investors published a newspaper ad to boost enthusiasm for the project. “The Time to Pick Cherries Is When They Are Ripe!” the ad shouted in bold type.
It went on to promise that “Gordon Square will eventually be to Cleveland what Times Square is to New York City.” No one speaks in such overblown terms today.
Still, Foreman was pleasantly stunned by what he saw when he started looking at the neighborhood.
“The truth is, I had no idea what was going on in that area, and holy cow!” he said.
“There is such passion and such growth and such movement.”
While I wish them luck, the attendance figures cited in the article are pretty dismal. Hopefully, they will be able to come up with some effective promotions to get some people in the seats.
The mall’s problems are serious enough that a couple of years ago the previous landlord, Simon Properties, walked away and handed the keys over to the bank that holds the mortgage.
I believe that this is the only one of the several Magic Johnson Theatres that he has walked away from.
This is the article referred to in the previous posting:
Randall Park Mall theater struggles to survive
Name is new, seats still empty at Randall Park theater
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Plain Dealer Reporter
Movies used to be “magic” in North Randall.
The 12-screen theater there was named for basketball giant Earvin “Magic” Johnson. In late 1999, Johnson cut a ribbon and welcomed moviegoers to the glitzy new theater.
By last March, the glitter was long gone. Citing crummy sales, theater operator AMC Entertainment pulled out. And, in a final crushing blow, the “Magic” signs came down.
But all the stripped signs, the wasteland of empty parking spots — and the dying Randall Park Mall on its back — did not force the theater to close. Instead, the theater’s owners and employees banded together and began planning, promoting and pounding the pavement to bring it back to life.
They’re fighting tough odds.
Retail in the tiny village of North Randall has taken a painful, steady slide from the glory days of 1976, when Randall Park Mall opened with more than 200 stores. The property that developers once called the “world’s largest shopping center” has become a cavernous echo chamber. Sexier shopping centers sprang up within short driving distance. Developers shifted from enclosed malls to mixed- use projects and outdoor centers where shoppers could park at a store’s doors.
Urban decay, crime and some high-profile violence — a security guard killed a shoplifter at the mall six years ago — didn’t help perceptions. The thousands of nearby residents, with a median household income topping $40,000, took their money elsewhere.
Clyde Mitchell watched the theater’s patrons drain away. And Mitchell, who is 26 and has worked in theaters since age 15, saw his dream job become drudgery.
The mozzarella sticks disappeared. The nacho-cheese well went dry. Popping popcorn wasn’t much fun anymore, without anyone to eat it or spill it in the aisles.
“When I first started working here, it was really great,” said Mitchell, who started as an usher in 2000 and worked his way up to a manager’s position. “You were happy to come to work every day."
Nearly nine years later, "I’m sitting here in an empty theater,” he said.
Don Powers wants to change that. A real estate investor living in Charlotte, N.C., Powers had owned theaters but never run one. Yet when AMC bailed out, Powers and the theater building’s other owners stepped up. They bought AMC’s equipment. They found a theater management company in Cincinnati. They kept getting first-run films.
And they came up with a new name: O Theater. (The “Magic” name was too expensive to keep. And “Ohio Theater” was taken.)
A new slogan: “O What a Bargain!”
And new prices: $5 tickets Monday through Thursday, with movies for $7.50 on weekend nights.
Darrel Shaw, another longtime employee and the theater’s manager, has been handing out coupons to family, to friends — to his pastor at church.
Even the coupons, offering two tickets for the price of one, aren’t boosting traffic much. On a weekday, employees are lucky to sell 15 tickets. On blockbuster weekends, they might see 400 people.
The theater’s largest auditorium seats 720.
Employees have seen their work hours, and paychecks, dwindle. To save on energy costs, they don’t start a movie unless patrons show up.
“That’s very difficult for us, because we’re sitting in a theater all day that doesn’t look any different than anybody else’s theaters,” Mitchell said. “On the one hand, you’re getting paid to work. But on the other hand, you can’t really do your job.â€
Instead of taking tickets and pouring popcorn, they clean, talk, listen to music, watch television or, Shaw said, brainstorm ways to boost business.
And they wonder about the mall. Whether Burlington Coat Factory and Sears, the remaining anchors, will follow Dillard’s, JCPenney and Macy’s out the door. Whether the lingering collection of nail salons, jewelry shops and stores touting gold teeth and tire rims does the theater any good. Whether there’s any truth to rumors that mall owner Whichard Real Estate might sell.
“We hope somebody’s going to get that mall and turn it around,” Powers said. “I know it’s not doing well right now, but I think it has some possibilities. I’ve seen other shopping centers turned around, and I’ve turned shopping centers around myself.”
Whichard, which bought the mall in 2004 for about $6 million, did not return repeated calls seeking comment. Cuyahoga County records show the company owes more than $200,000 in unpaid property taxes and has taken out multiple mortgages on the mall. The mall’s on-site manager declined to comment. David Smith, mayor of North Randall, also did not return repeated calls.
“If they’re not going to do anything with it, they should make it clear,” Mitchell said of the mall, which is surrounded by storefronts vacated by Circuit City, Toys R' Us, Dick’s Sporting Goods and other retailers during the past decade.
The area has seen some bright spots, including Ohio Technical College’s recent decision to move its PowerSport Institute into more than 200,000 square feet once occupied by JCPenney. Mayor Smith previously told The Plain Dealer that mixed-use development, not just retail, is important to the village’s future.
Mitchell and other theater employees hope for a cinematic happy ending.
“I have to explore other opportunities as far as getting another job, with how hard times are right now with jobs in this country,” Mitchell said. “I’m pretty sure I can get another job without a problem. But I’ve been doing stuff that I love.â€
The Saint gave away the juice and draft beer. BYOB was not allowed. There is (or was) some kind of loophole where they could give away the beer, but if they sold it a license was required. Plus, the members paid about $350 for the season, entitling them to pay only a $12 door charge as opposed to $25 door charge for guests of members. Since there was no choice of libation they sort of had to provide something free of charge.
Why would the city want the Cineplex entrance on the residential street when, as a theatre, it was always on the commercial avenue? The Saint used 6th St. for the main entrance (except for ‘special occasions’) after they got a liquor license, and changed their address to 233 E. 6th St., but that was because there was a church opposite the main entrance on 2 Av. The Liquor Authority will not allow a licensed premises within x-number of feet of a church. The first several years they had no liquor license and served no liquor, they just gave away beer.
And, the Hell’s Angels being referred by the NYPD? What’s up with that?
Where within the mall was the Cinema located?
East side of the avenue, btw.
Was this on the corner of 1st & 1st? Lobby on 1st Av and back of the auditorium on 1st St.?
So does anybody have any photos of the Northeast Cinema they can post on flickr or photobucket?
What in the wide, wide world of sports was Michael Jackson doing there? I didn’t think he knew where Ohio is. He showed up once at my theatre in NYC to see ‘Deep Blue Sea’, accompanied by an entourage of 12 y.o. boys. MJ was wearing red pants, white shirt, really good italian shoes, and a bee-keepers hat, complete with netting. I suppose he was trying to be inconspicuous :–) so nobody would recognize him, after all, doesn’t EVERYONE in New York City walk around wearing a bee-keepers hat with netting??
no prob – the site is acting up today – running very sluggishly…
Apparently St. Jerry’s is using the Commodore as a parish hall or something. I’ll have to go over there and snoop around.
That’s a weird intersection there – it’s not really on Lake Shore, the theatre is actually on the south-east corner of E. 152nd and Macauley Ave., probably with a mailing address of E.152nd St. As I recall, when the theatre was open, back in the last century, the location was advertised as Lake Shore Blvd. & E.152nd. Perhaps the guy who posted the theatre originally used the nearest address since there is no longer a phone book listing, and probably no address on the building itself. St. Jerome’s is further west, at the corner of E.150th.
According to a satellite photo on Microsoft Virtual Earth, the old Commodore theatre building is still there, but there is no indication of what is inside, if anything.
According to the post above of 11/22/04 by TomB, the Encore was built over the lobby. The last time I saw the Denis in person was in the mid-70s, and at that time from the street the building looked to be 2-stories tall. The wall above the marquee was that decorative grill-looking type of concrete block, and the theatre name was on there in big neon letters. The marquee only had the titles on it, no theatre name. In these recent photos that wall above the marquee is no longer there, the name is on the marquee, and the facade appears to be only 1-story. Has the Encore, previously stated as above the lobby, been removed?
Photos of the current state of the Denis Theatre are here
I thought we were discussing the theatres, not the films that played in them. Let Roger Ebert and Al Goldstein deal with that.
Here is an ad for Fox Cedar
Why would the Loew’s Astor, a prime house in the heart of Times Square, be closed for 4 consecutive weeks in 1976 and another 3 in 1977? Equipment replacement is usually done in overnight hours. Even seat replacement, which we know wasn’t done, only takes 4, maybe 5 days on a house that size. And remodeling didn’t happen til the late ‘90s.
…or the projects… considering how many blocks and blocks were leveled for all the projects in all boroughs, I’m sure some theatres went down, not necessarily huge places like the Strand or Capitol, but regular neighborhood theatres.
Robert Moses was a vindictive bastard, answering to no one and out of control: if people made enough of a fuss about an expressway coming through their neighborhood he might be persuaded to relocate it. Later on, though, he blessed that neighborhood with a large project.
Was that that Ken Burns-PBS series? If so, there is a portion of it devoted to Robert Moses, and how he bulldozed his warped vision of the future through neighborhoods in all 5 boroughs, with little regard to what the occupants of those neighborhoods wanted or needed. And nobody would stand up to him. He is responsible for the wanton destruction of many previously cohesive neighborhoods of the Bronx, Brooklyn and upper Manhattan.
It appears from the photos that the interior has been completely gutted. That being the case they should have just flattened the whole thing – what’s the point of having the restored 1932 facade fronting a new interior? The 1932 interior was the best part of the building, the facade was just gravy. I thought the City of Boston brought in Emerson with the idea that they would restore most of it. If the city wasn’t concerned with restoration of the interior any Joe Schmoe could have come along years ago and made a 99 cent store out of it.
“…the age of the marquee is almost over due to the internet.” What does that mean? The internet is fine for people who sit down with their planner and plot their life down to the last minute, but the marquee will always have value for enticing spontaneous movie-going. Even those who plan will be reminded that the theatre is playing a particular movie they want to see and work it into their agenda. The marquee or pylon, whether electronic or with conventional letters will always be the best form of free advertising that a theatre has, and a manager who doesn’t use it, or worse, leaves outdated information on it for months on end really doesn’t belong in the theatre other than perhaps cleaning it during the overnight hours.
Perhaps you would be more cordially received if you first offer a contribution of $10 or so to the church in return for your being allowed to admire their facility. Churches usually operate on a shoe string budget, and, unless they are conducting human sacrifices I would think they would welcome a few more dollars in the collection plate in exchange for a peek at their place.
I remember seeing Planet of the Apes there (summer of ‘70? or '71?). You had to pay extra to sit in the smoking section. At the GCCs I worked at in Ohio and Michigan there was no extra charge to be in the smoking section.