CINCINNATI — A Cincinnati theater that featured silent films and live stage events when it opened in 1911 has managed to survive through two world wars, the Great Depression and even competition from mega-plex cinemas.
The Esquire Theatre, which marked its 101st birthday today, also survived a fast-food restaurant chain's attempt to take over its location a year after the theater closed for a time in 1983. Residents of the theater's Clifton neighborhood banded together and fought to keep the restaurant chain out of the area — even taking their fight to the Ohio Supreme Court, and winning, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
The Clifton community council and the Clifton Theatre Corp. argued in the case that they wanted to maintain the area as an "Environmental Quality District" and the court decided that Clifton was a "model of good land use planning," voting 8-0 in favor of the neighborhood.
The theater had to struggle to find the money to reopen.
In 1990, it finally opened its doors to audiences again with a showing of "Cinema Paradiso," an Italian film about falling in love with the movies at a little village theater, and the romantic crime drama "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover."
The reopening came at a difficult time. The industry was suffering and similar theaters around the country were closing. Esquire investors took full-time jobs to staff the concession stand and clean the place.
Gary Goldman was later hired to oversee management and the theater owners succeeded in keeping the theater operating. The building was remodeled and now shows independent, low-budget and commercial films.
"We are constantly changing and trying to stay the same at the same time," Goldman said.
Goldman and theater manager Charles Hyden work to steadily improve the Esquire while sticking to the practice of keeping the theater involved in the community that saved it.
"The theater has helped a lot with community involvement," Hyden said.
The Esquire is now owned by 34 investors, many of whom were involved in keeping it going in the 1980s. The theater, which supports itself, features a bar and art gallery.
"We've been coming here for 45 years," said Bob Schneider, standing next to his wife, Alberta, for a recent afternoon date. "This place is charming and unique, and you don't see these movies in the other theaters."
The Esquire attracts customers of all ages and from all over the area.
Eric Liston, 20, of Fairfield, said the Esquire has "got a lot more intimate vibe" than the large theater chains.
"You can find films showing there that are more independent films that larger chains would never show in their theaters," he said.