Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Life Sandwiched Between Two Theaters

In retrospect, one of the neat things about my first neighborhood was the way so many of the things one might need in life were within easy walking distance of my front door. Virtually everything else was downtown - a simple 10-minute bus ride away.

In these days of huge malls and discreetly tucked away bedroom communities, it takes more than a bit of effort for me to recall how tightly integrated commercial and residential areas used to be. Often the two areas could be found under the very same roof (as was the case with the building I lived in). Cars were nice things to have but hardly essential to one's survival. Perhaps that's why I've never been comfortable with them and wish I lived in a place like Denmark where cars seem to continue to be much less important than in the US.

Among the businesses that existed on just my half of my first block were a hardware, a grocery, a paint store, a drug store, a barber shop, two restaurants/bars, a TV repair shop, a shoe repair shop, a Chinese laundry, an upholstery shop, an appliance store, a car repair shop, a gas station, a dry cleaners, a beauty salon, a typewriter repair shop, and a carry-out. (For a brief time there was even a costume shop with a full ape suit in the window that I used to keep an eye on while waiting for the bus.)

The adjoining blocks contained two more restaurants/bars, three fast food restaurants, a florist shop, a library, a bank, a bed-and-breakfast inn (then called a tourist home or a traveler's home), another gas station, another carry-out, a donut shop, another appliance store, and a doctor's office.

Beyond those blocks but within easy walking distance were two hospitals, a laundromat, a funeral parlor, a nursing home, a candy store, another gas station/auto repair shop, and another carry-out. And a lodge. And a pet store. And a few things I'm probably forgetting because I never had any use for them.

I never thought about it before, but when I recently sat down and calculated the furthest I've ever traveled from home on foot in all the cities I've ever lived, I kept coming up with about the same figure: 1 mile. On most days in my youth I traveled less than half a mile. Somewhat amazingly, the vast majority of my life has been lived within 2 or 3 miles of wherever my home has happened to be. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the typical urban squirrel or sparrow has a greater home range than I have ever had. I am in awe of those delicate hummingbirds and Monarch butterflies that allegedly migrate thousands of miles every year.

Oddly enough, the eastern and western boundaries of my first home range were delineated by theaters.

On Lagrange Street, the next major thoroughfare past Cherry and just over a half mile to my east, was The Ohio Theater.

You can actually see The Ohio Theater in the aerial photograph that was taken from right above my old residence back in the mid-1950s (and that I've previously explained in some detail here):

I can recall walking to this theater with my sister one nice day in the summer of 1964 or so. I think we saw Vincent Price and Peter Lorre in The Comedy of Terrors. And a Three Stooges short in which they played auto mechanics (perhaps Pardon My Backfire from 1953, though that's just an educated guess). I can't recall anything about the theater itself. It seems to have been much plainer and less impressive than any of the six theaters we visited downtown over the years. (Oddly, my mind insists on placing The Ohio to the south of the Lagrange-Central intersection rather than to the north where it actually exists. I cannot explain this discrepancy between memory and reality, but it serves to remind me of the flaws that can easily creep into recollections. And it makes me wonder what I'm misremembering without even knowing it....)

About 8/10ths of a mile to my west-southwest was The State Theater.

Collingwood Boulevard was the first major thoroughfare to my west. The State was at 2472 Collingwood - about 8 blocks away from my home and just one small side street and two lots to the north of my district high school, Scott (which you can just barely see under the tree at the right edge of the photo). That was the school where my sister spent her freshman year (1963-64) but I only set foot in once (circa 1975) while a member of another school's chess team.

My sister walked by The State Theater twice a day on her way to and from school. She walked me past it at least once, circa June 1964 - I don't know why anymore. Most likely, she wanted to show me the school where she'd spent some 180 or so of her days. I know we didn't attend any shows. The theater seems to have been mothballed at the time. It nonetheless attracted my attention as we walked by. I'm sure I tried to imagine what the interior was like as the hot sun beat down upon its highly reflective front walls and we lazily neared our turning-around point a few paces to the south....

I'm told that The Ohio Theater opened in 1921 and has been undergoing restoration work since 2008. The people in the long-standing Polish neighborhood surrounding it seem to have supported its preservation in a way almost no other theater in Toledo has enjoyed. (When one of the downtown theaters was demolished in the late 1960s, its classic pipe organ found its way to The Ohio.) I wish everyone involved in preserving The Ohio Theater all the best.

The State Theater (opened in 1927) has had a much more troubled history. Although it's probably overstating the case to say that I could sense this as a young child just walking by, the fact remains that the theater and the surrounding area were markedly different than the other areas I knew. The road was busier, yet the neighborhood seemed more deserted - almost haunted. The houses were bigger, yet the likelihood of being mugged seemed higher. The churches were far more numerous (with the huge Rosary Cathedral, headquarters for the 163-parish Catholic diocese and the site of my mother's first wedding, being almost right across the street from The State), yet the morality level seemed lower - the dangers greater, the discrepancies between rich and poor more acute.

It was only recently that I learned just how awful the history of The State ended up being....


  1. 163 parishes?
    Can I contain myself?
    Not this time.
    Here it comes:
    Holy Toledo!

  2. Is this a morality play where The State represents unbridled evil and The Ohio represents safety or redemption?

  3. It feels like I'm entering a film noir... although Toledo is nothing like where I grew up, I still have many memories of the two theaters in my little town, one where I watched many movies, and one where I ended up working, throughout my college years.

    I can see in the "___ Repair Shop" description of some of your local businesses the reason why they're not quite so prevalent... can we say Made in China and planned obsolescence? However, all is not lost! Your desire to have a walking community IS alive in some places! (Albeit it may be a bit dormant in the current climate.) Have you ever looked at modern places where you can walk to get to services? I have. I've often wished I was closer than 3 miles to the store, but I used to bicycle up to the local stores. (I think my working schedule and the climate have played havoc with that.)

    Meanwhile, *Guffaws* at Deve's top note!