McDonalds Or Something: Thoughts On The Old Detoit Theater

It must be wondered why there is so much anger over the franchise owner of a McDonald’s restaurant wanting to build a new restaurant on the property of the recently-closed Detroit Theater at 16407 Detroit Ave. Maybe if it were a Starbucks there might be less opposition.

After reading the quotes included in Cody Peck’s report “McDonald’s plan concerns residents” in the Sun Post-Herald, June 23, 2011 and the letter by Steve Gannis in the same issue, which is also included as an opinion piece in the June 28 issue of the Lakewood Observer, you would think a sinister plot was underway.

Is it the tearing down of the old movie theater that is bothering people or the building of a McDonald’s restaurant? Gannis called McDonald’s food “junk food” in his letter. But for many, McDonald’s is a happy memory, from when a father cashed his check to purchase the only ready-made meal he could afford for his big family; when a mother was so happy not to have to cook or wash dishes; and when all the kids had a dinner they all loved.

Whether it is a McDonald’s or something else that is moved onto that property, those who attended the meeting at the Lakewood Public Library June 15, 2011, seem to have baseless arguments. Arguments that could be made about any new building or business to be built on that property. Arguments that might have been made when the movie theater opened long ago.

“I don’t want increased traffic down my street” is one argument. If only more traffic went down that street to the theater the past decade, we wouldn't be arguing what to do with the empty movie theater. What was it like in the 50s when teenagers drove to the theater in rumbling muffler-less Chevys, spewing leaded exhausts? What were the kids doing after seeing The Blob or The Werewolf, or that awful Plan 9?

“What if it doesn’t work?” somebody else asked. If it doesn’t work we will see an empty McDonald’s- shaped building where once stood an empty movie theater-shaped building. Like the Cozumel Mexican restaurant which was once the IHOP restaurant, like Advanced Auto Parts which was once Hollywood Video stores, and the Chipotle which was once The Arabica, somebody somewhere may see the advantage of using that property for something other than what it was built for.

More likely, that McDonald’s will succeed in that location. It will be the people down the street from the restaurant, the ones who complained about the traffic, who will help it succeed. “Here Frankie, I’m too tired to cook, here’s ten dollars, go get yourself a hamburger or something from the McDonald’s down the street and get me that junk food salad they make.”

The problem is people don’t need to go to the movies anymore. The Detroit Theater is going the way of many theaters. The Centrum, in Cleveland Heights, far more beautiful inside than the Detroit Theater, gone; Mapletown gone; Southgate Cinema gone; Richmond Heights Theater, the one that used to be across the street from the mall, all gone.

We go to multiplex theaters in faraway suburbs these days if we go to a movie theater to see a movie at all. We rent movies from video stores to watch them on big screen TV. That too may be part of the movie past; Hollywood Video stores are gone and Blockbuster is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy court. We can now rent DVDs from vending machines placed in front of gas stations or supermarkets. And maybe that too will be part of the past as we download the latest release onto our computers.

The tearing down of an old building that once served a noble purpose is sad, but things change; technology improves and replaces the technology that was. We still have record players but can anybody buy a new record anywhere? Do they still make 8mm film for home movie cameras?

We can still see the Detroit Theater by renting the movie American Splendor, the story of Harvey Pekar. There is a great little scene where the characters discuss the merits of Revenge of the Nerds. Funny enough, Mapletown movie theater was mentioned in the movie. For anybody who is curious, the old theater in Richmond Heights that used to be on Wilson Mills Road across the street from the Richmond Mall can be seen in Jim Jarmusch’s movie Stranger Than Paradise. Funny enough, every part of Cleveland that was used in that movie is now gone: the hot dog place in Bedford Heights and East 9th Street Pier with Captain Frank’s restaurant right in the middle of the pier, gone.

It is sad when people just stopped going to places that made us feel good. People just stopped using the Detroit Theater, and the theater could not make enough money to make a profit. Nobody can pay rent with a memory. Sooner or later that building and/or property will be turned into something else--a restaurant, a warehouse, or whatever. Maybe a Starbucks isn’t such a bad idea. Maybe a compromise; coffee and a movie?

A. John Green

I'm an ordinary citizen who enjoyes reading the observer, especially the opinion page. I enjoy getting to know y new home of almost a year. I have lived and worked in Lakewood now and enjoy riding my bike down Detroit Ave., or Madison, or Clifton Blvd. I read some and like to write letters to editors.

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Volume 7, Issue 15, Posted 7:38 AM, 07.27.2011