Then and Now: An interactive look at neighborhood theaters

With summer comes the annual tradition of blockbuster movies. Movie lovers stand in line, buy their tickets and concessions, and for a few hours are transported to a world where Godzilla stomps, mutant X-men time travel, and million dollar arms melt hearts.

Collective movie watching survived decades of competition from technological forces that now offer people convenient and immediate entertainment in their homes, on their computers, and on their smartphones.

Ironically, movie theaters have moved further away from where people live, making it a bit less convenient to get there.

It was not always that way. There was a time when all someone had to do was walk down the street to the one or two screen movie theater in their neighborhood. 

And, as John Morrison, one of the people who saved one of the last remaining neighborhood movie houses, The Esquire, can attest, those places often acted as anchors and a symbol of the vitality of the neighborhoods they were based in.

As cataloged on a national movie theater registry, Cinema, the Tri-State has seen over 200 theater houses since the advent of moving pictures.

Below are some of those theaters, Then and Now:





Opened as the Clifton Opera House in 1911, the single screen theater offered silent films and live stage events for the first part of its life. Surviving the Great Depression that closed many neighborhood cinemas, the house was re-named the Esquire. By the 1950s the Esquire was a regionally known art film house.

In the early 1980s, the theater’s longtime owner handed over the business to his sons. The place showed a mix of second run and newer films but could not compete in the day's economic climate. In 1983, the theater closed and sold. A group announced the Esquire, which sat empty, would be converted into a Wendy’s fast food restaurant.

A group of dedicated Clifton neighbors fought the development for nearly years, and eventually won. Some of them took ownership of the Esquire and reopened it in 1990.

Since then the Esquire added 5 screens and two other theaters to its operating group and draws regular crowds to Ludlow Avenue.





In 1979, the Royal Theater was demolished to make way for a parking lot. The longest operating downtown theater located at 7th and Vine, next to where Jean-Robert’s Table now operates, opened as a single screen movie house in 1910.

It’s exterior was typical of many movie houses of the time, when the places doubled as a live entertainment venues that reflected a sort of Coney Island midway garishness.

Not everyone appreciated the architectural flourishes. A reviewer in Movie Picture World in 1911 wrote “While in the Queen City, my attention was called once more to a moving picture theater, ‘The Royal,’ a very expensive proposition entirely out of proportion and of rather poor taste.”

The films shown at The Royal during the last 15 years of its life were as scandalous as the 1911's reviewers opinion of the facade. The Royal was screening soft core porn the day it closed.





The Liberty Theater on Spring Grove Avenue in Cincinnati’s Northside community opened in 1901. As seen in the undated black and white photo, the Liberty is a survivor, beating both time and tide.

Though it closed as a movie house in 1929, according to Joe Vogel on, the building that housed its single screen still operates as a viable business today.

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, the Liberty maintains much of its unique façade, minus the red, white, and blue light bulbs that lined its triangle top that again reflect the midway and carnival feel from the time it was built. 
 Become a WCPO Insider to view more Then & Now photos of other local neighborhood theaters.

To continue reading: Subscribe Now or