History of the West
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio
Photo by James L. Smith. 19 June 1978.
Remembering the Riverside
16895 Lorain Avenue
By Peggy Calvey Patton
The Riverside movie theater once stood on Lorain Avenue. It opened in 1938 and operated under various owners until 1993. For 54 years the Riverside's marquee was a beacon at Kamm's Corners, signaling everyone to enter and forget the real world for a few hours. It was a haven, a place where dreams were born. The building was demolished in 1994 and replaced by Walgreen's drug store.
Until the mid 1970s there was only one screen and projector. The admission price for kids was ten cents for a double feature of two full-length films, a newsreel, and cartoons. A favorite among the kids was the weekly serial installment, a short continuing the "cliff-hanger" about some good guy or girl eventually prevailing over an evil villain.
Back in the 1940s and 50s pre-television days, kids on the west side of Cleveland went to the movies on Friday nights, Saturday matinee and Sunday matinee, each a double feature. That was six movies a week, twenty four a month, a possible two hundred movies a year, and we never saw the same picture twice. We always came in groups of four or five and we never checked starting times. We came in, watched the movies, newsreels and cartoons until one of us would say "this is where we came in" and then we all got up and left. The only way we ever saw the beginning of a movie would be a second feature. We weren't really choosey about what we saw. We loved westerns, war movies and tolerated musicals. We absolutely hated love scenes.
For ten cents admission and six cents for candy, mothers could get rid of their kids for hours at a time for small change. The Catholic kids took seats at the show the same way we sat in church - girls on the left side of the theater (Blessed Virgin Mary's side) and boys sat on the right (St. Joseph's side.) The Protestant kids sat in the middle.
The Riverside had display cases outside with posters and still photographs of the current features. The inside lobby's glass display windows advertised the coming attractions. Each image was staged showing glamorous movie stars on cliffs, staircases, boats or horseback that made us want to see the movie.
The inside main lobby had dark carpet strips with pink and red roses that frayed in later years. The concession stand was on the right side of the lobby next to the girl's john and the boy's lavatory was in the basement. Smoking was allowed in the lobby if you stood behind the upholstered half-wall at the back of the last row of seats. On the first floor, against the wall on each side, were two small loges with about six or seven movable chairs. The balcony was large and dark and mostly closed for the kid's Matinee.
In our memories all the theaters tend to have the same qualities, but the Riverside Show had a very different feature - a seven foot wide walkway, or alley as we liked to call it, on the west side of the building. Six or seven steps went down from the parking lot behind the theater and then it was about forty feet to the sidewalk on Lorain Avenue. The lone overhead light by the steps was always burned out and it was dark. If the exit doors of the show opened up when you were in the alley, the burst of light and sound from the theater was startling. The walkway on the metal fire escape from the balcony area above made eerie shadows on the walls and ground. It was like something out of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and nobody ever walked down the alley by themselves, not even on a double dare.
Thursdays were "Banko" nights, meaning you could win money and "bank it." With great fanfare, the lights were turned on and the manager came onto the stage. He would pull ticket stubs from a box and call out the lucky numbers. If your number was called you went up on stage and chose an unmarked envelope containing cash. The prizes ranged from $5 to $100 and only four winners were allowed per night. The State of Ohio later ruled this was gambling and outlawed the practice. Some theaters gave away pots and pans, dinnerware, even detergent. Every theater had a prize night and it was a big attraction for movie-goers. Many of the housewares given away back then are collectables today.
As we grew older and left grade school, the Riverside became a great place to meet someone. We all went to neighborhood high schools, so it was easy to find out about that cute guy in the fifth row. Friday nights were stag nights. Saturday night was date night and Sundays were for the adults and really serious couples who went steady.
When my children were old enough, we went as a family to the Riverside. But the kids rarely went to matinees because by then, television and other activities diminished the popularity of daytime movies. Everyone had a car, so going to suburban malls with first-run movies seemed more appealing.
During the blizzard of 1978, my daughters and I walked down to Lorain Avenue, had lunch at G. C. Murphy's lunch counter and then went to a matinee at the Riverside, not realizing it would be my last visit. I came out of the show feeling great and told myself I had been away too long, that I would renew this former treat. But life, work and family duties have a way of taking priority and robbing us of those quiet afternoons that we so loved during our youth. Thank you, Riverside Theater, for the wonderful memories.
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Updated 14 November 2014