The big EWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Many landmarks from my teen years are gone or unrecognizable — Southwyck Mall is a parking lot, Westgate long ago lost Thackeray’s and Boogie Records, and the clock is ticking on Libbey High School.
The Showcase Cinemas complex on Secor Road, which closed in 2005, is being dismantled. Theater 1 is already rubble and Theaters 2 and 3 are gutted and waiting for the wrecking ball.
The theater was killed by the megaplex addition to Westfield Franklin Park Shopping Mall. But seeing it torn down has stirred up some personal ghosts and memories.
In June 1977, I sat in the dark at the Showcase on Secor to see “Star Wars.” No entertainment experience since has seared as immediately and resonated as permanently.
It’s easy to look back at the beaten and bewildered child I was and understand why “Star Wars” had such an impact. It was transportation away from a reality of thrown dinner plates and being pushed against walls and being smacked for imaginary transgressions. “Star Wars,” though I could not have expressed it then, gave my mind a place to go when reality became too much to process. Every creative impulse in my brain was born anew that day; my love for music, film, writing, all things born in the imagination.
In 1982, my brother Mark and I took our mother Rachel to the Showcase Secor to see Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” We did not know it then, but it was the last time the three of us would ever enjoy such an evening. My mother’s deteriorating health — and our crumbling relationship — would prevent any subsequent nights out. But that night, for a few hours, we had fun. As I have learned with the rapidly turning calendar pages, simple “fun” with friends and family is not to be taken for granted or looked down upon.
I could not count the number of movies I saw at Showcase Secor, or name all the friends with whom I shared those wide-awake dreams. Gary Moritz and I saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” there. Tony Tyson and I saw “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Aliens” there. A fair amount of first dates took place there; maybe even a few second and third dates. It was in the parking lot of Showcase Secor, walking in a cool drizzle to see the 1997 “Star Wars Special Edition,” that I impulsively stopped Shannon Scott, brought her face to mine and first kissed her smiling and tantalizing lips; she is now my wife, and I strive to keep that first-kiss magic alive as we near our 10th wedding anniversary.
And so it was, stuck in traffic on Secor Road, waiting to get to the I-475 entrance ramp, that I saw the steel beams and busted bricks and … several of the original neon letters that used to line the roof, resting against the building. The letters once spelled “S-H-O-W-C-A-S-E C-I-N-E-M-A-S 1-2-3,” but when I saw them, all that was left was “A-E C-S 3.”
With a swell of certainty, but in retrospect not much clarity, I knew how I wanted to preserve my memories of Showcase Secor.
Paxton Demolition is the company responsible for tearing down the theater. The firm was founded in 2000 and is the family’s third-generation entry in the demolition field. Vice President Billy Paxton has more than 30 years of experience as a heavy equipment operator. His late grandfather OJ started the tradition more than 80 years ago and his father, Bill Paxton, owner of B&P Wrecking, has worked on demolition jobs in Toledo for 50 years. Owner Jamie Paxton and daughters Kodie and Sumerr round out the family business.
My friend Robert Russ scouted the demolition site and facilitated a meeting with Billy. Standing in the demolition site trailer, looking at the weather-and-work-toughened man, I hesitated to explain why I was hoping to own one of the neon letters. Billy looked like a man who unquestionably understood heavy equipment, but might not have patience for daydreams about first kisses.
Billy may be responsible for knocking things down, but I discovered he has great empathy for the memories his work sites still have for people. He told me that many people had stopped by to obtain theater seats, letters, even pieces of carpeting and screen. Some were movie buffs, some collectors, some just people like me, with an emotional connection. With hard hat and proper lighting gear, I was allowed to walk with one of Billy’s workers through the site. The lobby, full of rubble and piles of seats, looks like a scene in a zombie apocalypse film. It meant a great deal to me to sit one of the still-attached seats one last time, pretending I could smell popcorn and hear the pre-movie chatter. It was a brief moment, but I will always carry it with me.
I made a deal with Billy and eventually backed up our Dodge Caravan to the demolition site. It wasn’t until I was standing next to the letter E — the only neon letter left — that realized how little I had thought through the impulse. The E was solid, dense steel, covered in flaking blue paint, with a vast maze of neon tubes running through its guts. It weighed at least 150 pounds and measured more than 5 feet from end to end and more than 3 feet tall. I had to remove the kids’ car seats and drop the stow-n-go seats into the van floor, then enlist two site workers to help me load it into the van.
It sits in a Toledo garage, waiting for attention.
It is garish and nostalgic and larger than life, which reminds me of the movies. It inspires an overwhelming sense that I am going to need a lot of help moving forward, which reminds me of life.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com.