by Nicholas J. Vocca
|From Finnish Heritage Museum|
In the September 16, 1985 edition of the weekly Harbor Journal, me and then-publisher Charles A. Altonen ran a 'City Vision' special centered around the many potentials we saw for The Harbor at that time.
Centered mainly around how the late Donald Giangola had purchased the former Arco gas station in the 1000 block of Lake Avenue and turned it into a long-standing and very successful insurance agency, despite the well-intended negative criticisms or laughs of others, we brought up the then vacant Laid Lumber property, and suggested how it could benefit that area if used as a local plaza, complete with a grocery store.
In that same article we suggested there perhaps be a McDonald's or Burger King, "perfect" for a short meal or snack after one the Mariner's ball games.
Today we admit that each of us has a certain element of pride when passing by the Harbor Plaza, McDonald's, and the Gateway Plaza which came to fruition a few years later, yet one suggestion in the article has yet come to be, and it is one that we hope, in time, may become a reality to the cheers and delights of all from this historic district, and other neighborhoods of the Ashtabula community.
A movie theater! May sound impractical to most, even far-fetched to some, but I see this endeavor in a different light.
Thanks greatly to the Bridge Street merchants and other organizations over the years, the lower portion of this historic thoroughfare has transformed dramatically into a picturesque showcase of small boutiques, craft stores, taverns, eateries, and even a scuba diving shop, all of whom have provided continuity in endearing tourists and locals to that area.
So, why not another Harbor Theater as we once had on Bridge Street decades ago?
Our summer guests who patronize Ashtabula's fine marinas, along with many who reside in The Harbor and its surrounding areas, often admit to getting worn down driving out to the mall to see the newest shows, and it is a safe bet that there are those in the immediate area who would enjoy taking a brisk, refreshing walk to see a good movie.
Are there any spin-off benefits to a theater in The Harbor? Perhaps.
Perhaps those who go to see a show may stop by one of the choice restaurants in that area for a decent meal at a respectable price before or after the show.
Perhaps those who own these restaurants could offer a special of the day for movie goers, or a discount price on certain meals an hour or two before and after the show.
Perhaps the theater itself could host special events, such as concerts, comedy or dance acts by local artists, or even occasionally bring in one or more top name groups or solo acts from years gone by to rekindle the memories of what it was like to be young.
A Harbor Theater would create some jobs and these, along with proceeds from ticket and concession sales, would benefit our still skimpy city coffers to some degree. Additionally, it would save many people time, and gas, from battling the often congested traffic of Route 20 to the theater at the mall.
One suggested site for such a theater is the now vacant land on the southwest corner of Lake and West 9th, where the former Washington Elementary School once stood.
From a logistical standpoint, this is a perfect location, in many ways.
Being that Lake Avenue connects with several main arteries,those coming from the Saybrook and possibly Geneva areas could use Route 20, Carpenter Road, West 13th, or West 9th, and those coming from the east side could use Route 20, Mary Street Hill behind the hospital, or Bridge Street to see a show.
The land is ample enough to house a nice theater and provide adequate parking for patrons, and the fact that it is on a fairly well-lit corner would not only provide a sense of security for movie goers at night, but would make it easier for local police to circle as a deterrent to any would-be vandals or muggers who may attempt to burglarize vehicles or accost unsuspecting citizens.
Though not for certain, I am sure the current zoning ordinances for this parcel of land would allow for a theater; if not, any zoning changes needed would be minimal, at best, and the same may also apply to electrical and sewage tap in fees. In fact, city authorities may be wise to waive any tap in fees as this theater would, in the short-term, give citizens and tourists an alternative in entertainment, as well as produce jobs and revenues which, over the long-term, will help to improve the growth of our tourist industry, bolster business for other Harbor merchants, and in time benefit other areas of the city.
"Build it, and they will come." And I am sure they will.
In our next segment on City Vision, we will explore an idea by one Rhonda Silvieus-Wright, and her suggestion on restoring the former railroad depot on West 32nd into a museum, and restaurant, in order to showcase and preserve Ashtabula's great railroad heritage of the past.