Standing in the vast, empty parking lot the only cars you can now hear are the ones passing by, honking their horns on the nearby Norwood Lateral. In the center of the wide expanse of asphalt is a rectangular, one story building adorned with white tiles, locked doors, boarded up windows and the words "Showcase Cinemas" across the top. In Bond Hill, you can find one of the area's forgotten theaters. Located right of Reading Rd., this closed cinema is a reminder of a type of movie theatre that has come and gone. At one point in time, Bond Hill and Norwood were two of the most prominent examples of only a few Cincinnati suburbs. Over the last few decades the suburbs surrounding Cincinnati have continued to expand and grow outward. The closed Showcase Cinemas in Bond Hill are a reminder of the suburban expanse we now see moving further and further out of the greater-Cincinnat area. The single story cinemas with sticky floors and aisles and aisles of seats once found in places like Bond Hill have become replaced by giant multiplexes with stadium seating and reclining chairs in the newer suburbs like West Chester.
On April 28, 2008 Channel 9 WCPO ran a story about how the Bond Hill and Erlanger Showcase Cinemas had abruptly closed. Days later it was released that Showcase Cinemas had decided to close the locations due to declining attendance and the opening of a new, more modern "Cinema De Lux" in Florence, KY.
For many locals, the experience at the Bond Hill location seemed to decline in recent years. According to readers of the "Citizens for a Better Norwood" blog, the patrons at this location were often loud and talkative during the movie. Rude experiences seemed to be common and rules rarely enforced. Similar cinemas in Milford and Springdale experienced renovations with modern amenities, while the Bond Hill location stayed the same and eventually closed.
Wooden boards have been placed in the windows to keep out any would be explorers/photographers interested in seeing into the lobby where tickets and popcorn were sold, arcade games were played and patrons went about an American movie experience that has changed so rapidly in the last 20 years. I can remember as a kid going to the Springdale Showcase Cinemas before they were renovated, where you sat in a long row of seats hoping someone tall didn't sit in front of you. In just ten years that location has transformed into two story tall screens with digital picture, stadium seating and reclining seats. The move-going experience is changing and the now abandoned Bond Hill cinemas are a reminder of a cinema experience on it's way out.
Just a few miles away in Colerain, a similar cinema sits abandoned in the parking lot of the Northgate Mall, connected to a T.G.I. Fridays. As far as I could tell, it seems the Northgate Theater closed sometime around March 2007 and used to show a mixture of first and second run films. This "older" theater probably had a hard time competing with the more modern multiplexes in it's closing days and according to locals it had been falling into disrepair.
"I took my kids to go see 'Bridge to Terabithia' and during the movie a piece of the ceiling just fell down, right into a section of seats. About a month later the theater closed for good." says Bill Ware, a 10 year resident of Colerain.
A temporary fence now erected around the theatre keeps patrons out for good. Following the theater's closure, the adjacent Northgate Mall announced plans to demolish their recently closed JCPenny store to put in a brand new RAVE theater. The plans eventually fell through leaving the Northgate area with a closed theater and space where a new theater was supposed to go.
In the Summer of 2007 a friend told me about an abandoned Drive-In Movie Theatre on the East side of the city. One evening a friend and I came upon the remains of the Oakley Drive-In Theatre in the process of being destroyed.
Once billed as Cincinnati's "last outdoor picture show", this drive in movie theatre was able to accomidate 900 cars and at one time featured 2 screens. In 1996 it was voted one of Cincinnati's best entertainment venues by City Beat Magazine.
The Oakley screened its last films in Sept. 2005. Today constructions is taking place to turn the property into something new. Only the ticket booths and main screen remained when I last visited the site during the summer of 2007.
Perhaps the most interesting forgotten theatre in the Cincinnati area though, is one right in the heart of downtown. One that until the summer of 2008 I didn't even know existed; The Emery Theatre.
The Emery Theatre was completed in 1911, originally constructed as an auditorium for the adjacent Ohio College of Applied Sciences in the city's "Over-The-Rhine" neighborhood. It housed the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra until 1937 and ran silent films as well as a "classic film" series before falling into neglect in the mid 80's when several attempts were made to restore the theatre. In December 1999 the Emery closed.
Since the theater's closure, attempts have been made to restore it. In 1997 the University of Cincinnati partnered with the Cincinnati Preservation Association to begin drawing plans to renovate the theatre the adjoining College of Applied Sciences building. In May of 2001, the Ohio College of Applied Sciences reopened as the Emery Center Apartments, while the renovation of the adjoining Emery Theatre was still being debated and planned.
In July of 2008, my good friend and fellow explorer Sherman Cahal, moved into the Emery Center Apartments and discovered that the Emery theater was adjoined to his building. After speaking with his landlord, we were able to gain access to photograph the first floor of the theatre. Larry Schwabb of Emery Center Apartments is currently involved in a project to get the theatre restored and was kind enough to allow us inside to take photographs.
Peeling paint, burnt out light bulbs and plastic wrapped chairs fill the inside of the theatre, but despite nearly a decade of no use, the Emery Theatre still holds it's great charm. The backstage rooms are empty, old levers still control the curtain rods and work is being done on renovating the theatre's wooden stage by Give Back Cincinnati.
The Emery is being restored in hopes that it's 1600 seats may eventually fill a mid sized venue role that the city is currently lacking. In November 2008, the Emery hosted it's first event in close to a decade, a sign of progress as suburban cinemas close and evolve into new levels of American entertainment, and as a historical relic downtown begins to breathe new life.
Did you ever visit any of these theatres? Have any memories or thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment or join in the discussion at the QC/D Facebook fan page.
By clicking here you can read a more comprehensive and detailed article about the Emery Theatre by Sherman Cahal.
More photographs of the Oakley Drive-In can be seen in the Queen City Discovery Photo Gallery.
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