Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Should the Highland Movie Theatre Be Preserved?

The Highland Theatre is the last of two remaining neighborhood movie houses in Akron. The owner has taken out a permit to wreck the back of the building, the part that houses the movie screen, according to an article in today's ABJ.

Many comments from the online readers today, run the spectrum from full capitalist glee in bulldozing down the past to lamenting communitarians who would seek tax dollars to save it for the community.

The only problem is, the community hasn't made good use of this theatre for decades. Various managers have taken it on only to fail due to classic reasons:

1. No parking except on the streets of the neighborhood.
2. The facility cannot compete with the suburban sprawl multiplexes. 12 screens going all day long vs. one screen -- it's a losing proposition.
3. Operating costs go through the roof -- the place consumes enormous amounts of energy to heat or air condition.
4. No matter the content, the community does not support it to make it operable.

It's sad to think of Highland Square without the Highland Theatre. I saw my first movie there as a child -- Bambi. Later on, the Highland became a very pleasurable way to spend a Saturday afternoon. All for a buck, you'd get a bunch of cartoons, some old time serials and then at least two features. I saw The Blob there and all those scary movies with the kids who had big eyes.

For awhile toward the end of the 20th century, rock and roll made an attempt to find a home at the theatre. Some remodeling with a night club theme was attempted to draw in a younger, hipper crowd, but it never seemed to work.

I always wanted it to run the movies that never showed up in Akron, the ones we have to drive up to the Cedar Lee in Cleveland to see. Back in the 60s, we used to be able to go the Art Theatre in the Falls to see underground stuff. But somehow, the customers for that venue vanished as well.

Highland Square is supposed to be "hip" but in reality there aren't enough of those folks to make it a viable operation. Can it really be called a landmark worthy of preservation? Certainly the Akron Civic Theatre is unique and worthy of every penny spent on its preservation. The Highland Theatre, however, is not an architectural gem. It doesn't serve anybody's needs anymore. The building does not meet current and future standards in terms of environmentally appropriate energy use. The cost of renovating it versus building a community center that provided programming that actually meets the needs of Highland Square residents has to be considered.

I have one idea, free to anyone who wants to try one more programming attempt to save the theatre. Since parking is a problem, residents within walking distance are the ones who need to be using the theatre. Walking to the theatre suggests an interest in maintaining physical fitness. I suggest that the place is loaded with fitness equipment, machines and free weights. On screen, one can show endless movies for people to watch as they row, cycle and walk their treadmills. Call it the Highland Theatre of Fitness, sell monthly passes and you are on your way to providing a real service while making the place finiancially solvent at last!

(Photo above is Copyright 2001 Brian Reichow, and can be found at:


Mimi Gray said...

A fine, philosphical column. I like your idea to turn the Highland into a fitness center with movies running on the screen. You are doing a service reviewing the history of the theatre and its several liabilities, like no parking, and its lack of of being a real historical landmark. But, like you, many saw their first film there and have so many nostalgic memories. Will future adults feel nostalgic about multiplexes?

Village Green said...

Let it be put on the record that I loathe multiplexes. I have been to the Highland Theatre more times in the past year than to a multiscreen. I don't go to many movies, actually. Movie going will only continue to decrease as home movie theatre setups grow more and more popular.