Films returning to the Capitol as it celebrates its centennial
by Brian Love
(Plain Press, August 2021) Film fans cooped up for months can celebrate the return of live screening when the Capitol Theater, at W. 65th and Detroit Avenue, celebrates its 100th birthday with an August 12th reopening. The featured film will be the Wizard of Oz (1939). Tickets will be $5.00 each. Those planning to attend are encouraged to purchase their tickets online in advance at clevelandcinemas.com/capitol. Movie-themed costumes are very welcome to celebrate this special occasion, so come dressed up as your favorite character. (Costume masks will have to be removed before entering.)
Regular screenings will resume Thursdays through Mondays from August 13th onward. Cinema safe protocols will be in effect. Guests who have been vaccinated are encouraged to wear face coverings, except when eating food or drinks purchased from the concession stand. Those who have not been vaccinated are required to wear face masks, except when eating and drinking. Seating in the main auditorium will also be limited until further notice.
This past April 8th, the Capitol Theater celebrated its 100th birthday. At the heart of the Gordon Square Arcade and Community Building, the theater was developed by the West Side Amusement Co. and Canadian theater promoters Julie and J.J. Allen.
The Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) began their Centennial Campaign April 8th when local residents and filmgoers of all ages dropped by the theatre for photo opportunities in a partnership with the Cleveland International Film Festival. DSCDO has now merged with Cudell Improvement to form a new organization called Northwest Neighborhoods CDC.
“It’s the only movie theatre left on Cleveland’s west side,” said Joshua Jones, Northwest Neighborhoods marketing director. “It’s a really important part of our community. Seeing a movie inside the beautiful theatre feels like a sacred tradition and visiting our unique shops and restaurants beforehand and grabbing ice cream or a drink afterwards make that experience extra special.”
Opening in 1921, the theater initially served as a vaudeville and silent film house. Through the entertainment offered at the location, it became the centerpiece of Gordon Square.
Following World War II, where Cleveland residents and businesses were left in despair, the theater slowly deteriorated.
For a time in the 1970s, there were occasional ethnic films shown in the theater, but in 1978, the parapet of the arcade collapsed, damaging the marquis. Following this came plans to demolish the building. Though the building wasn’t torn down, thanks to DSCDO efforts, the Capitol Theater closed its doors in 1985, leaving the establishment to deteriorate.
In 2009 renovation began with a revival of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood and designation of the Gordon Square area as a cultural arts district. The theater reopened and has been going strong since.
Owned by Northwest Neighborhoods CDC, the theater is operated by Cleveland Cinemas, which includes the Cedar Lee Theater, Apollo Theater and Tower City Cinemas, the latter closing awhile back.
The theaters have been regular spots for both independent and mainstream films, including hosting screenings for the annual Cleveland International Film Festival. Before the pandemic, the theater was drawing around 60,000 visitors per year.
The theater, along with so many others, closed in March of 2020 and hasn’t held a public screening since.
“The theatre has had no income since it closed over a year ago in March 2020,” Jones explained. “That means we haven’t been able to employ our Cleveland Cinemas staff, who are also our friends and neighbors. It also means we’ve had to draw down reserve funds that DSCDO raised in the past to pay the theatre’s bills. We’ve experimented with virtual screenings and curbside concessions, but nothing compares to audiences coming in to see blockbusters and indie films. The theatre continues to have maintenance expenses, like repairs to the sound system and a hot water tank.”
Thus far, Northwest Neighborhoods, the owner of the theatre, has received donations totaling $20,955 towards the $100,000 Centennial Campaign to rebuild the reserve funds and protect the Capitol’s future, said Jones. The fundraising campaign will culminate in a Centennial Gala, which will take place in April next year. The fund, combined with support from The Charles M. and Helen M. Brown Foundation, will collect donations that will help with the theatre’s reopening and allow it to secure its future operations.
The neighborhood’s enthusiasm for the theater was illustrated at the April 8th opportunity to stop by the Capitol Theatre’s signature marquee for free outdoor birthday photos and a socially distanced celebration. At the event, limited edition Capitol Centennial merchandise was sold with all proceeds going to the Capitol Centennial & Sustainability Fund. T-shirts and posters will also be available for sale at the reopening.
“I’m very excited for people to come back to the theatre, try the new seats, and enjoy a safe moviegoing experience again,” Jones explained. “Seeing our community members rally to support local businesses as well as get vaccinated has given me a lot of optimism for the future! DSCDO also installed new reclining seats in the Capitol’s two upstairs theatres, which was a top-requested upgrade that patrons will enjoy. Cleveland Cinemas is helping us keep a close eye on movie releases, including choosing a film.”
Seeing a theater with this legacy celebrate 100 years can be reassuring for many. When the pandemic struck, a lot of people missed out on going to the theater. Many films got delayed and others got cancelled due to health concerns. With more and more citizens getting vaccinated, film productions resuming and other releases getting confirmation dates, there is hope that the movies can still be experienced the way they were meant to be seen – in a dark room and on the biggest screen.
Editor’s Note: Please visit clevelandcinemas.com/capitol to find information on showtimes and ticket prices. Brian Love wrote this article for the Plain Press as part of a class assignment in Professor Leo Jeffres’ Communications class at Cleveland State University.