Centennial celebration: Capitol Theatre marks 100 years as a Detroit Shoreway destination

It was April 8, 1921 when the Capitol Theatre first opened its doors as a vaudeville and silent film house in the Gordon Square Arcade and Community Building.

The theater has gone through periods of disrepair, extensive renovations, and modern upgrades in its history—even closing from 1985 to 2009—but it has always survived, even through the coronavirus pandemic.

The Capitol Theatre, which is owned by Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) and operated by Cleveland Cinemas, was forced to temporarily shut its doors last March 17 because of the pandemic, and the doors will remain closed until mid-summer.

“It’s pretty much been the worse-case scenario,” says DSCDO marketing manager Josh Jones. “We were hopeful all summer with the thought that maybe we could reopen, but that wasn’t the case.”

But next Thursday, April 8, is the Capitol’s 100th birthday. And since DSCDO officials say they feel it is not yet safe to open the theater, they will host a socially distanced outdoor celebration, kick off of the Capitol’s Centennial Campaign, and host a Zoom screening and discussion of its sponsored film, “Landfall,” at the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF).

“It’s the proper way to honor [the Capitol], a good way to connect all our Capitol fans, and look forward to the future,” says Jones. “It makes me optimistic.”

Jones says they considered hosting the party in the theater itself but chose instead to wait until 2022. “There just wasn’t a good way to do it,” he explains. “So, we decided to wait and do it properly at the end of the centennial year.”

At the celebration, the Capitol will begin its 100-day countdown to when the theater opens for its first screening in more than a year on July 17. Jones says they don’t yet know what film will be chosen for the re-opening. “Stay tuned,” he says. “We hope people will watch our social media.”

Meanwhile the DSCDO is inviting the Cleveland community to stop by the theater’s signature marquee on April 8 between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. for free, outdoor birthday photos and socially distanced celebrating.

Capitol Theatre during the 39th Cleveland International Film FestivalMovie-themed attire is suggested for the celebration, says Jones. A photographer, cupcakes, and birthday hats will be available to capture the nostalgic celebration. Limited edition Capitol Centennial merchandise, which includes locally-printed shirts and posters, will be for sale.

All proceeds from purchases will go to the Capitol Centennial & Sustainability Fund, which kicks off the start of the Capitol Theatre Centennial Campaign to raise $100,000 and will culminate in a Centennial Gala in April of 2022.

Throughout the Centennial Campaign, DSCDO also invites Capitol fans to share their favorite memories of the theater on social media—either with short video testimonials or written stories. Tag @detroitshoreway in posts on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Fans who share memories may be offered a spot in the Capitol’s new pre-show video.

The Centennial & Sustainability fund, with initial support from the Charles M. and Helen M. Brown Foundation, will collect donations to enable the theater’s reopening and ensure its future. The Capitol Theatre has earned no income during its closure over the last 12 months and has relied upon reserve funds previously raised by DSCDO.

“The DSCDO raises money for our reserve fund every two years, and these funds are always for big needs,” explains Jones. “No income is pretty much as big a need as you can get.” He says even though the theater has been dark, they have had to replace the hot water heater and repair the sound system. “There’s always ongoing maintenance work,” he adds. “For instance, there are plaster repairs due.”

But DSCDO has also used this past year for improvements. The organization installed 34 new, larger, reclining seats in each of the two upstairs theaters as an investment in the theatre’s next century.

Capitol Theatre during the 39th Cleveland International Film FestivalThe seating upgrade was a top request from patrons, Jones says, and was funded with a Cultural Facilities Grant from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. The first floor's main auditorium retained its 420 regular seats for larger screenings.

The Capitol’s presentation of “Landfall,” which is a look at Puerto Rico’s struggles against colonialism, exploitation, and natural disaster, will stream online during the 45th annual CIFF.

Steaming runs from 11 a.m. on April 8 through Tuesday, April 29.  Tickets to “Landfall” are on sale now for $10, but only $9 per household with the code CAPITOL.

DSCDO will host a free, online gathering on April 8th at 7:30 p.m. to discuss the film’s relevance to the Cleveland community, reconnect with moviegoers, and reflect on the Capitol’s many thought-provoking films.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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