AN INCLUSIVE TABLE | Restoring Foster Theatre is a step in the right direction - Mahoning Matters

When the Foster Theatre opened in 1938, it was the second movie theater on Youngstown’s South Side.

Its arrival made headlines in Hollywood, with studio heads like the Warner Brothers even writing to congratulate the theater’s president, Joseph Shagrin Sr. Those days were long gone by the time I was old enough to realize that the Foster Theatre wasn’t like the movie theaters we drove elsewhere to patronize.

It now stands as the last movie theater on the South Side and one of the last remaining landmarks of the once bustling Fosterville district. Until it was purchased by YNDC in 2021, the theater also had the distinction of being one of only 35 remaining adult theaters in the country.

Now, far be it for me to judge or malign the adult industry, but one thing that has held about adult theaters since they emerged in shared public spaces in the late 1960s is that they tend to be a little seedy.

Growing up in the 1990s, it felt as though every trip down Glenwood Avenue happened in the shadow of the theater. This hulking building takes up an amount of space commensurate with its long-lost status. The former glamorous movie house was an eyesore when I was old enough to notice it. And I had been sufficiently warned about it without being given details beyond my pay grade as a kid.

What I did realize, however, was that this particular building was constantly patronized by people who did not live in my community. An interesting thing happens when transient visitors frequent a neighborhood in transition or disrepair: They treat the area and its people in ways they would never consider on their side of town. Of course, this is not always the case. But we’re talking about Glenwood in the 1990s.

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