Toledo’s Westwood Art Theater

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When I visited Toledo in 2012, I was disappointed, for some reason, to find the Westwood Art Theater had closed.

It was just one of those landmarks – the neighborhood porno theater – you always expected to be there. When I took these pictures it was shuttered and showed no signs of life as the renovation of Sylvania Avenue continued in the fall of 2012.

The closed Westwood Art Theater from September, 2012.
The closed Westwood Art Theater from September, 2012 (click for full-size). Photo by the author.

The Westwood opened in 1928 and closed in May of 2011 with showings of Bouncy Bouncy Big ‘Uns and Cougars in Heat. Its owner, Bob Schaefer, said the theater was doing OK financially, but he was ready to retire. You should read that story. It’s a funny one.

The earliest reference to the Westwood Art Theater I could find was from 1956, when Mitch Woodbury laid out the winter lineup of films – mostly foreign. The Art Theater Guild owned the Westwood then, and owned theaters in 13 other cities, according to this 1958 article.

The Blade of the late 1950s and early 1960s was chock full of art movies playing at the Westwood – La Dolce Vita, for example, in this review from 1961. The theater also hosted art exhibits.

But times changed (as did movies), and the Westwood changed with them.

Another view of the Westwood Art Theater.
Another view of the Westwood Art Theater (click for full-size). Photo by the author.

The Westwood tried an experiment in 1972 – showing Chaplin films – but almost no one showed up, wrote The Blade’s Norman Dresser. 

He put it this way:

For years it was known as an art theater, specializing in foreign imports – the Ingmar Bergman, ‘little’ but well-made French and English movies, that sort of thing. The theater built up a comparatively small but loyal clientele.

Then, a few years ago, it switched to skin flicks. Such films as ‘Without A Stitch,’ ‘Vixen,’ the Russ Meyer opuses brought a new type of patron to the Sylvania Avenue theater.

This exhibition policy came to an end, at least temporarily, when the Westwood became involved in court battles over some of its films, including ‘Without A Stitch’ and ‘The Stewardesses.’

The links above go to stories about the obscenity rulings, not the movies themselves. We’re strictly G-rated here.

An ad from March, 1981.
An ad from March, 1981.

Despite being temporarily banned at one point, The Stewardesses, a soft-core porn flick that self-related itself X, ran for 21 weeks at the Westwood in 1971. The manager said over 60,000 people came to see the 3-D skin flick according to an I’ve Heard item written by now-retired Blade editor and vice-president Tom Walton (Vixen! ran for 23 weeks).

The Westwood went all X in 1977, according to this Roberta deBoer story from 1985. The home video revolution had eaten into the X-rated movie theater scene in Toledo and the city was down to two X-rated movie houses, the Westwood and the Las Vegas Cinema on Secor Road (which wasn’t quite accurate, since the Las Vegas did peep shows and live dancers but not movies). The story also said the Art Theater Guild still owned the Westwood, but the chain was now all X-rated.

Ads in The Blade bear this out. Picking a date at random from May, 1981, I found five ads in the Peach Section from Toledo’s skin flick houses (ahh, the things we do for research):
– the Cinema North at Suder and Benore was showing the Inside Story of Seka
– the Modern Cinema at 135 S. Byrne was showing The Seduction of Amy
– the Las Vegas Cinema was showing The Erotic Adventures of Little Orphan Sammy (if I remember it correctly, it was in the plaza across from LaSalle’s where there was once a Topps, and then a Farmer Jack – and now a Home Depot)
– The Eastwood at 817 E. Broadway was showing Chorus Call
– the Westwood was showing American Pie and Frat House

An ad from July 7, 1995.
An ad from July 7, 1995.

The Westwood was being subsidized at the time by the sale and rental of video cassettes, but the manager, who declined to be identified, said “I think we’re not far off from the time when the movies will go altogether.”

Nevertheless, the theater lasted another 26 years, through the VHS era, the DVD era, but not, apparently, the Internet era.

No. I never set foot in the place.

Postscript: As indicated in the comments, The Westwood Private Members Only Club reopened the old theater sometime in 2012. It described itself as Ohio’s finest adult private club showing XXX movies in a private club environment.
By 2017, however, it had folded. Happily, a group calld “Sylvania Avenue Neighbors” has taken interest in the old theater now for sale , and on March 11, 2017, they met to discuss its future with the hope of turning it into something other than what it’s been for so long. Here’s a story from WTOL on it, here’s WTVG’s take, and here’s the group’s Facebook page.

6 Comments

  1. I worked for a time in the 1990s at the Ma Chere Academy, a beauty school on Sylvania at Lewis (the five-points interstection). I can remember passing by the Westwood on my way to & from work every day, and, if I recall correctly, one of our students was renting an apartment over the theater.

  2. Diane Ley

    I grew up around the corner from this in the 1970’s. Since I was a youngster, I didn’t know what kind of movies it showed. My mother refused to take me there…it wasn’t until I was much older that I “got” it.

  3. There was another “Art Theater” located on Broadway, maybe half way between the high level bridge and the South St intersection. I can remember regularly seeing its ad along with those of the Westwood in The Blade. Does anyone know anything about it? I cannot remember the name.

  4. Greg D

    As a kid growing up down the block on Belmar Ave. (in the 70s/80s), i remember the Westwood quite well. As kids at Longfellow school we would hang out behind the theater, occasionally finding clips of old adult movies. As teens we would hide out behind there to drink beer and smoke….ahhh the good old day. Tried to go in a few times but was turned away for being a minor. Finally saw some movies there in the late 80s, they used to run a weekend movie with WIOT….rocky horror, tommy, the wall….etc. Never did see an adult film there, but you could hear them from the back exit door when we were drinking back there…….its funny i grew up just down the block in its heyday…but i don’t remember any issues or problems that occured ….haven’t been in my old neighborhood in 20yrs…guess i should go by

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