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Issue Date: October 2009


A Capitol Investment

A theater’s return to glory helps reinvent the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.
Kristin Majcher
More than 1,000 eager moviegoers littered the intersection of Detroit Avenue and West 65th Street on the Capitol Theatre’s opening night in 1921. Despite the rain, a blaring brass band and men carrying phonographs cranking jazz tunes paraded up and down the street to celebrate the opening of the West Side’s only movie palace.

Fast-forward 88 years, and the Capitol Theatre will reopen once more on Oct. 1 as the city of Cleveland’s only West Side theater, showing a mix of quirky independent films and popular blockbusters.

The décor of the classic theater remains, with original plaster cornices lining the ceiling, antique lighting fixtures, marble stairs, and carpet and paint matching the theater’s original palette.

There are also new additions such as a glitzy marquee, concession stand, ticket booth and new comfortable seats that make the theater just as spectacular as it was in its heyday.

“Detroit and West 65th is one of the few intersections in the city of Cleveland that still has all four original structures at the corner, so it’s part of the history of the area,” says Lisa Kious-McGovern, project manager for the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization.

The Capitol Theatre marks the first completed project in the Gordon Square Arts District’s $30 million plan to turn the area between West 54th and West 78th streets into a cultural destination. The Near West Theatre is expected to break ground on a new building in 2010, while the Cleveland Public Theatre will undergo renovations that are expected to be completed by 2011.

“The most important thing to understand is that this is a collaboration that uses the arts as a catalyst for economic development,” explains Joy Roller, executive director of the Gordon Square Arts District, a nonprofit organization committed to revitalizing the neighborhood.

The Capitol Theatre is an important first step in the process, because the once-luxurious movie palace had fallen into disrepair over the years.

“It was frightening. It looked like it was a bombed-out space,” says Kious-McGovern. “In 1979, [the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization] purchased the whole building to save it from being demolished.”

It wasn’t until five years ago, when Kious-McGovern joined the organization and gathered the $7 million needed for the renovations, that restoration was a reality. After four years of planning (including the addition of 3-D capabilities and all-digital technology), she oversaw the groundbreaking for the renovation in the summer of 2008.

Roller says the success of the Capitol Theatre will help draw even more business to Detroit Shoreway, which has seen more than two dozen new retail stores, bars and restaurants, such as Luxe and Stone Mad Pub, set up shop in recent years.

“It’s so exciting to recreate a vital part of the city that has such incredible potential and see it change by the day.”

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