The Harbor Theater
The photo is courtesy of Rich and Debbie Bzovi.
Going to the movies in 1950s Ecorse was a fun experience. Remember the Harbor Theater on West Jefferson and Outer Drive? In fact, there was at least one movie theater on Jefferson before Andrew Bzovi built the Harbor Theater, the Ecorse Theater.
Thanks to Leta Blakeman Kekich for sending this article and others that her father, Morris “Sandy” Blakeman wrote for the Mellus Newspapers in Ecorse in the 1950s. Remember the Harbor Theater? Escaping into the magic world of Superman, The 1950s Phantom of the Opera and Disney cartoons at the Harbor Theater was one of the fun things about growing up in Ecorse.
Sidelites. . .
By M. Sandy Blakeman
From silent movies to the era of 3-D and wide screen, the Bzovi family of Ecorse has brought entertainment to countless thousands of Downriver residents.
Andrew Bzovi and his family moved to Ecorse in 1929 and almost immediately afterwards brought motion pictures to the city. They closed the Ecorse Theater in 1948 and built the new Harbor Theater at the intersection of West Jefferson and Outer Drive. Dan Bzovi, son of Andrew and Florence Bzovi, is manager and co-owner of the Harbor Theater with his father and has closely watched the city’s progress. Bzovi emphasizes the important role the youth of a city plays in its development. “Ecorse is still to a great extent dominated by pioneers,” insists Bzovi. “Today’s problems must be met by today’s youth as well as the older generations.”
“First of all,” Bzovi suggests, “we need execution of new and modern ideas in Ecorse and the only way we can efficiently reap the benefits of these ideas is by organizing our progress-minded citizens. It has been my experience to witness the weakening of our community structure when a suggested idea for improvement was termed obsolete by certain pioneer citizens because it had been investigated several years ago and was found unworthy of further comment.
“Much of the progress in Ecorse can be attributed to young leaders,” Bzovi continued. “Check the rapid growth of several Ecorse business places. Almost invariably these establishments are controlled by young leaders. I do not mean older folks are not progress minded. I do mean old ideas should be examined more closely and new ideas should be given preferential treatment if they are worthy. Give the driver’s wheel to those who will bring progress to Ecorse.”
Need Chain Stores
Bzovi believes chain stores in Ecorse would bring new life to the business sections. He reports however, that in his opinion, the chain stores were not given the opportunity to establish here because much of the suitable property is owned by people who asked fantastic prices for it.”
“The property under the circumstances,” Bzovi says, “will remain vacant for a long time. Several chain stores have investigated and were met with opposition from the start. We need competition,” Bzovi insists. “We need competition to keep us on our toes and to give our people more reason to ship and live in Ecorse. We need competition to help us plan the future of Ecorse.”
The Harbor Theater was constructed at a time when the future of the entire motion picture industry was threatened by the popularity of television. Despite these odds and the serious handicap of obtaining building materials during the war years, Bzovi was assisted by many local progress-minded civic organizations who helped him obtain approval for the construction of the Harbor Theater.
“Faith in your home town,” Bzovi concludes, “is a necessary ingredient for tomorrow’s progress.”
3-D Glasses, the Harbor Theater, and Scary Movies
By Kathy Warnes
I settled my green 3 D glasses more firmly on my nose and wiggled more comfortably into the plush red seat in the first row at the Harbor Theater. I had gotten there an hour before the show was supposed to start just to make sure that I could be the first one in when the doors opened. Feeling like I was entering a time machine, I put my fifty cents in the steel kitty, accepted my complimentary pair of 3D glasses from a smiling teenage girl, and hurried down the red magic carpet through another set of doors into the mysterious darkness of the Harbor’s inner sanctum. The concession stand stood to the right. I was the first one to buy the luxurious 25 cent box of buttered popcorn and a box of Jujubeads and I hop-walked down the long red carpet covered center aisle to claim my front row seat.
Escaping Unmelted from The House of Wax
I squashed my guilty feelings about sitting in the front row after my mother had told me not to because being so close to the screen would hurt my eyes with a fistful of popcorn. I buried my lacks of guilty feelings about leaving my brothers home with another fistful of popcorn and chewed Jujubeads for a forever time until the music announced the previews and the coming attractions. The previews were not in 3D and I can’t remember any of them. I was so anxious for the movie to start that I put my glasses on my nose and kept them on while I fidgeted my feet to make the movie arrive faster. I’m pretty sure that cartoon was a Goofy cartoon, very similar to this one. Father’s Day Off.
Finally, came the music and picture announcing The House of Wax, starring Vincent Price. My child self shivered ( it was the 1950s, after all!). The 3D glasses put me right in the middle of the story. Vincent Price playd a sculptor, Professor Henry Jarrod working in a museum in New York in the 1910s. Professor Jarrod’s partner sets fire to the museum to collect the insurance and splashes kerosene over his body, leaving him to perish in the flames. Although severely injured, Professor Jarrod survives and he builds a new House of Wax with the help of his deaf-mute assistant Igor, also a sculptor.
Professor Jarrod and Igor create an exhibit called “Chamber of Horrors” that features figures from notable crimes including the prototype of his former business partner who had been murdered by a cloaked, disfigured killer. Professor Jarrod’s partner Burke’s fiancée, Cathy Gray, is also killed. Her friend Sue Allen also visit the museum and discovers that all of the waxworks in the House of Wax are the wax coated bodies of Jarrod’s victims. Sue Allen almost becomes Jarrod’s victim, but she is saved in time and Jarrod himself falls into the wax.
My 3D glasses could have been glued to my face with Super Glue, I pressed them so tightly to my nose. I didn’t want to miss any of the dramatic scenes, and I wanted to see the wax figures up 3D close and personal.
When The House of Wax was over, I walked up the aisle slowly, casting backward glances at the screen. Reluctantly, I handed my glasses back to the same smiling teenager, still casting frequent glances over my shoulder for one last glimpse of creepy Professor Jarrod.
It took years for the memory of the Professor's work table next to the bubbling wax to fade and every time I passed by or went to see another movie at the Harbor Theater, I shivered at the spooky yet exciting memory of The House of Wax.
Aliens in 3D at the Harbor Theater was one of the highlights of my childhood.
Not too long afterward, I traveled the eight blocks from Pitt Street where I lived to the Harbor Theater to see It Came From Outer Space., the other 3-D movie that still sits firmly in my memory. It Came From Outer Space is set near a small town called Sand Rock, Arizona. Actor Richard Carlson plays John Putnam who is an amateur astronomer and Barbara Rush plays Ellen Fields, a schoolteacher. They watch a meteorite crash near the town and they visit the crash site. John spots something strange in the crater and he is convinced that it isn’t a meteorite but an alien spaceship. A landslide covers the mysterious ship, and the townspeople, the sheriff, and the local paper and radio and television ridicule John.
John asks Ellen to help him investigate the mysterious space ship and during the next few weeks, several of the townspeople disappear. When a few of them return, they act distant and dazed. Eventually the sheriff is convinced that aliens really are present in Sand Rock and he organizes a posse to find them. John hopes to resolve the situation peacefully, so he goes into a mine where he hopes to find the buried spaceship and the aliens.
John and Ellen finally discover that the aliens are benevolent beings whose spaceship crashed and they want to stay on earth just long enough to repair their spaceship. The aliens took control of the humans temporarily because they needed to blend in to the community while they repaired their spaceship. When they repair the ship and left, all of the missing and controlled townspeople are again their normal selves.
The Harbor Theater Was a Safe Harbor
When I left the Harbor Theater after seeing It Came From Outer Space, I was determined to find a spaceship and explore outer space, even at my age. I think I was ten by that time. It took me years to accept the fact that I would not personally be flying with Sputnik or orbiting or walking on the moon. After all, hadn’t I seen the cutting edge of space travel at the Harbor Theater?
My 3-D experiences at the Harbor Theater were the most memorable, but I also adventured with Superman, the Lone Ranger, and Hop-a-long Cassidy there. I remember watching some love scenes in movies and contributing to the disrespectable smacking noises that kids in the anonymous dark made to communicate their disdain for mushy movies.
The Harbor Theater was a time capsule, a space ship, and a fun place to spend Saturday and Sunday afternoons and beg parental permission to visit on weekdays too. It was a safe place for kids to go to set their imaginations free to roam the plushy red seats and travel the long carpeted aisles from childhood to adulthood.