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Per John Ewing, director of the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, in his “Cinema Talk” column in the Cinematheque’s November/December 2018 Film Schedule:
“The old Cleveland Institute of Art building, including Aitken Auditorium, our shabby but beloved home for 29 years, was completely leveled in August. The property, now jointly owned by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art, is currently being transformed into public green space that will be named East Bell Commons (since it’s at the corner of East Boulevard and Bellflower Road.)
From: “Historically Speaking” (an article in the Independence Post A monthly publication of the City of Independence (Ohio) November 2010)
By Wes Gaab
Unlike today’s theaters that show a dozen films at the same venue, the Willow Theater showed one feature film, except on double-feature Saturday and Sunday matinees. The major movies would first be shown in the first-run theaters Downtown, located in what is known as Playhouse Square with the Palace, Allen, Hanna, Ohio and State Theaters. The Hippodrome, on Euclid Avenue west of East 9th Street, was also a first-run theater.
One of the major films that came out and was shown in Cleveland circa 1953 was “Blackboard Jungle” starring Glenn Ford as the teacher in an inner-city school in New York, and Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow, two of the belligerent students in his class. The management of the Willow wasn’t sure the film should be shown in small-town Independence, so they asked if the teaching staff, grades one through twelve, would preview it for their opinion. That’s when there was only one public school—the now vacant old, old middle school. I was teaching Science at the High School at that time, and attended the private showing. I thought the film was great, and so did the other teachers, because it showed how a teacher with imagination and determination could win over a class of really rowdy teenagers. So, the film was shown at the Willow.
Did you ever wonder why the name Willow Theater? There were three train stations located in Independence where you could board a B&O train and travel to Cleveland or go south to Akron. One was South Park at the foot of Stone Road; Thornburg was on Rockside; and Willow was at Schaaf Road. Those names became popular in Independence, and the Willow Freeway was connected to Brecksville Road to the north.
The Willow Theater also provided another service for the community and the schools. In 1961, the new High School on Archwood (now the Middle School) was built, but didn’t have an auditorium until 1965. So, during the early 1960’s, commencements were held at the Willow with its seating capacity
For you residents who settled in Independence after 1976, who may be wondering what happened to the Willow Theater, I have to tell you the sad ending. On December 10, 1976, the Willow Theater burned down, and I mean burned down. It was the largest fire the Independence Fire Department
ever had to fight. There were all sorts of rumors as to how the fire started. Everything from juveniles setting fire to the seats (bogus), arson from a disgruntled former employee. I think the official cause was an electrical malfunction. The theater and the two adjoining stores were totally lost, so there was
no talk of reopening. The remains were removed and, in its place, Packard Hardware was built.
Would you believe we were unable to find a photo of the Willow Theater before it burned down? However, we must have two dozen photos of the fire and the aftermath!
Independence had two things that no other small town in the area had that made us unique and others envious. We had the Willow Theater and the Independence Welcome sign. Now, both are gone. The Willow Theater…to be no more. Is there some faint hope for the sign?
Description of the Cleveland Cinematheque from the Cleveland Institute of Art’s website:
“The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is one of the country’s best repertory movie theaters, proclaimed by The New York Times. Founded in 1986, the alternative film theater shows art, independent, and foreign films as well as revived classics. The Cinematheque offers discounted tickets to all CIA students and contributes to the richness of the college’s public programming in the arts.”
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer (local newspaper for the Cleveland Metro Area)
CLEVELAND, Ohio – How appropriate. “The Last Picture Show” will be the final film to screen when the Cinematheque says farewell to its home for the past 29 years.
Peter Bogdanovich’s black and white classic from 1971 was chosen by a fan vote spanning several months. So many classic films have screened at the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Aitken Auditorium on East Blvd., that it’s an honor to be chosen.
Cinematheque director John Ewing said Bogdanovich’s film was the audience’s “overwhelming choice” in his announcement today.
Clint O'Connor, The Plain Dealer. June 11, 2015.
The name of the theatre, Willow, may have something to do with a stop or station on a 19th century Cleveland area railroad called the Cleveland Terminal and Valley Line (which in 1915 was absorbed by the B&O railroad) that ran from Cleveland alongside the Cuyahoga river and the Ohio and Erie Canal south to the Tuscarawas valley coal fields. A stop on the line near Newburgh Heights/Cuyahoga Heights was called “Willow Station.” When a T-shaped freeway system was planned by the City of Cleveland in 1927 to run along the lakeshore (upper crossarms of the T) with an extension south, (leg of the T), the southern leg was called the Willow Freeway. The freeway had a large cloverleaf style interchange with State Route 17 (Granger Road) near the Independence incorporation limits. This was Ohio’s first cloverleaf style interchange. It is at this cloverleaf, completed in October of 1940, where the freeway ended as a divided freeway and seamlessly joined the existing US Route 21 and continued on as such south the to center of Independence, right past the Willow theater, and further on to the center of Brecksville. This “Willow” freeway, when finally completed after WWII, provided 15/25 minute commuting times to downtown Cleveland and industrial flats jobs from Independence and Brecksville and favored the blossoming of these communities into bedroom suburbs. It was their lifeblood. More research is needed into how the area around the station got the name Willow.
Thank you Joe Vogel. This afternoon I re-visited Cinema Treasures and discovered this “currently open” default to the search bar, but still did not notice the various tabs at the bottom of the map that would let me filter search results. Thank you for pointing this out. In my initial search last night I didn’t know the Chicago/Rogers Park Adelphi had been closed and in fact, demolished.
I grew up in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights area just to the south of Independence. The Willow was the nearest movie theater. There really wasn’t much of a built up town around the Willow so most all patrons arrived by car—especially those of us coming from neighboring suburbs. Parents would drop off kids and come back later to pick them up. If a parent was late for the pickup there was a period of time when kids were unsupervised and a certain amount of mischief went on. Mondays at school were filled with conversations about everyone’s weekend adventures at the Willow – popcorn fights, minor brawling, evading the ticket takers and ushers etc.
When one enters “ Adelphi ” in the search bar for Cinema Treasures all that comes up are two theaters that are not in the United States — one in Rabat, Malta and one in London, England. I got here to the Adelphi theater in Rogers Park not by way of the Cinema Treasures search bar but by leaving the Cinema Treasures website and instead Googling “ Adelphi theatre Chicago ”. The Adelphi in Rogers Park was where my Aunt took me and my cousin in, I believe, the summer of 1957 to see James Stewart play Charles Lindbergh in the film “The Spirit of St. Louis” I was 9 years old at the time and it was only my 2nd visit to a movie theater and only the 2nd feature film I’d ever seen. I was quite impressed and had a hard time sleeping that night as scenes from the film replayed in my head all night long. Rogers Park was my grandparents neighborhood and was where my Aunt, as their child, had grown up. The Adelphi was her childhood theater. My Aunt, my cousin, and I were visiting from out town and staying with the grandparents that summer.
ChasSmith might have actually patronized the Richmond Theatre or the Mayland both listed, as Eric K says, in the “nearby theaters” portion of this Eastgate 10 webpage. Both were part of strip shopping centers and are nearby. The picture of the interior of the Richmond that is part of its listing here at Cinema Treasures shows a huge theatre that might square with ChasSmmith' memory of a “large suburban theater”.
The city of Mayfield Heights has fairly strict regulations on signage, especially signage that is not attached to a building. Notice that gasoline stations in Mayfield Heights post fuel prices only in their windows and not on a free standing sign or on other exterior parts of the station building.
Looks like the the theatre has re-opened sometime in November 2009.
Just today, December 18, 2009, I clicked on the http://phoenixtheatres.com web site link in one of the previous posts and was taken to a page listing a pretty full schedule of very current films including Avatar, Avatar 3D, and Invictus that are playing at what they call the “Eastgate 10” theatres.
Driving by the closed theaters this evening, October 24, 2009, the Marquee is seen to very neatly list the 10 theatres and an invitation to visit the website of a new operator: Phoenix Adlabs Theatre Management, LLC. The website address is:
An excerpt from the website explains in part what Phoenix says it can do for a shopping center owner:
“With regard to management, if your shopping center is losing the operator of your cinema and you wish to maintain an operating theatre we can seamlessly take over its operation. Providing an analysis of your options and potential revenue, we can take control of your site within a few weeks. Don’t let your theatre go dark, let Phoenix Adlabs manage your theatre property.”
The entrance seems to have been spiffed up a bit from last weekâ€™s drive-by, the Marquee is very neatly done up this week, and some maintenance equipment sits in the parking lot. Itâ€™s good to see some attention being paid to the place.
The Regal Theaters here were a re-make (with possibly some extension of the footprint) of the rear of the Zayre discount department store that occupied/anchored the north end of the lengthy north-south strip that housed the bulk of the Eastgate Shopping Center’s tenants. Zayre was there from the 1960’s through ????
The front of Zayre’s and the rest of the north-south strip faced west towards S.O.M. Center Road (Ohio SR 91) and the rear, where the theaters were erected, was the automotive center of the store. I believe (about 65% certain) that the overhead garage doors of the automotive center faced east as does the entrance to the theaters. There is some possibility the doors they may have faced north—my memory is not that certain. The front of the Zayre’s is currently the MicroCenter Computer Superstore.
Driving by the closed theaters this afternoon, October 17, 2009, I noticed some wording on the Marque to the effect: “Grand Opening in November: Join our Job Fair: October 16 — 10 to 5, October 17 — 10 to 2”
Theater has been down for some months now — clearing was to create a parking lot and visibility from Mayfield Road for an Aldi’s grocery store erected at the rear of the property. Store opened in August/September 2009.