Do you remember the first movie you saw and where you saw it? For me, it was Babes in Toyland at the State Theater. I also remember seeing King of Kings there, one of those biblical epics on the life of Christ.
This was just one of the big movie palaces in downtown Youngstown, first opened in 1929. The oldest was the Liberty, later renamed the Paramount, opened in 1918. The beautiful Palace Theater, just off the Central Square, where I think I may have first seen Bambi as a child, was first opened in 1926 as the Keith-Albee Theater. The grandest of them all was the Warner, opened in 1931 by the Warner family whose roots were in Youngstown before Warner brothers Albert, Sam, and Jack moved to Hollywood. Sam died in Hollywood and the Warner in Youngstown was built in his memory. No expense was spared on a theater filled with marble-etched mirrors, terrazzo floors, silks, velvets and more.
As the city grew, theaters opened in the different neighborhoods throughout the city. My dad told stories of his first date with my mom at the Mahoning Theater in the late 1930s. Later this became the Mahoning Follies, a very different theater to say the least! We often went to matinees at the Schenley Theater further up Mahoning Avenue, near the Gran Bowling Lanes. When I stayed with my grandparents on the southside, the neighbor boy and I used to go to double features at the Foster Theater. My first time in the Newport Theater was to see The Sound of Music. I fell in love with Julie Andrews on the spot! In high school I remember an English class field trip going to see Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet at the Uptown. We kept hoping they’d make a mistake and show us the uncensored version. No such luck! Later when I was dating the woman I’m now married to, we went to see Earthquake there because they had a sound system to handle the special effects.
As people moved into the suburbs, so did movie theatres–the Wedgewood plaza, Liberty plaza, Boardman plaza and later Southern Park Mall (where we saw The Poseidon Adventure) and Eastwood Mall. I was around to see the demolition of the Palace Theater, which showed its last movie in 1964. The Warner closed in 1968, to be saved by the Powers family, whose gift led to its renovation as the home of the Youngstown Symphony. During college, we went to a huge wedding in its great hall, literally dancing the tarantella up and down the steps of the theater. What a night! Now it has enjoyed further renovations and additions and is known as the DeYor center and is part of Youngstown’s downtown renewal.
Neither the State nor the Paramount lasted. The State was a rock venue for a time before being torn down in 2008, followed by the Paramount in 2013, although its last first-run show was in 1970.
Many of the suburban theaters have followed–the Schenley and the Newport among them. The Uptown Theater building, which was sold in 2015 survived a fire in the uptown area in August 2015.
The great old movie theaters reflected the rich cultural heritage and industrial might of Youngstown at one time. The suburban theaters reflected its growth. Today, all of these have been replaced by multi-plex cinemas in Austintown and Boardman. Thankfully, the DeYor Center survives as a living monument to the movie palaces of the past.
What are your Youngstown movie-going memories?