YOUNGSTOWN – One of the people most excited to hear that Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. bought the closed Foster Theater on Glenwood Avenue is Steven “Shags” Shagrin of Walnut Beach, California.
Shagrin is a grandson of Joseph Shagrin Sr., the man who built and ran the Foster from December 26, 1938 until he retired in December 1965.
Steven’s grandfather had the vision of building a movie theater in a neighborhood and, according to his obituary, selected a location near Idora Park and Mill Creek Park on the city’s South Side. He had predicted the expansion of business into the neighborhood before shopping malls became popular.
“My grandfather was the very first to break away from downtown,” noted Steven. “He said, ‘You have to put it in the neighborhood. That’s where the people are. ‘ That was awesome because the bus route ran from Mill Creek Park to Idora Park. And what was on the way? The Foster Theater. People could go to Fosterville, they could watch a movie for a dime, a dime, maybe a quarter. “
Years later, “everyone moved to the suburbs,” said Steven.
Although the Foster Theater has been an X-rated cinema for the past few decades, a 1938 Foster advertisement stated that it was once “healthy entertainment for the whole family all the time.”
Steven Shagrin grew up in the Youngstown area and moved to California in 2006. It was only after his grandfather’s death that he realized the value of learning more about his grandfather, he said.
“I wish I had a chance to speak to him about his early years in the entertainment business,” said Steven. “I was 17 when he died so I was just coming of age and I wanted to know my family history and he couldn’t remember anything.”
As director of the theater, Joseph Shagrin Sr. was “among the first neighborhood house managers to recognize the importance of art films,” says his obituary. He later “made it one of the leading art theaters in the country for a town the size of Youngstown”.
He died on April 1, 1974.
Joseph and his twin brother Max grew up in Youngstown and knew the Youngstown Warner brothers – Harry, Sam, Albert, and Jack.
The Warner family invested in a movie projector in the early 20th century and traveled through Ohio, Pennsylvania and neighboring states to show movies in tents, according to ohiohistorycentral.org.
The brothers bought their first movie theater in New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1903 and then invested in other theaters in the Youngstown area.
The brothers began producing films in 1907, founded a film production company in California in 1918, and founded Warner Bros. Co .. in 1923.
They built the Warner Theater – now known as the DeYor Performing Arts Center – on West Federal Street in downtown Youngstown in 1931.
The Foster Theater building has an architectural style that is “untypical of the Mahoning Valley,” said Ian Beniston, executive director of Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.
He said the YNDC plans to restore the theater’s tent and facade, but it has not yet been decided how the building will be used.
With the theater showing X-rated films for so long, the neighborhood residents didn’t see it very positively. Beniston said he would like to change that perception.
“There wasn’t a lot of neighborhood loyalty,” he said.
“It’s hard to see in its current state, but it’s important to preserve buildings like this,” he said. “You couldn’t rebuild it if you’d tried.”
He said the cost of renovating the theater is likely to be “seven figures.”
The YNDC has created a gofundme page to raise funds for the renovation. The title is “Restore the Foster Theater Marquee!”.
Many are not aware that the building was designed with a theater in the middle, but two shops to the left and right of the theater entrance. Steven Shagrin recalls that it had a flower shop on the left and a candy store on the right.
The twin brothers had significant careers in the entertainment industry and worked in the Youngstown theater business for many years.
In the 1920s, Joseph Shagrin Sr. ran the Park Theater, which opened on South Champion Street in 1901.
The Park Theater was the training ground for Al Jolson, who, according to the IMDb website, “has been known in the industry for well over 40 years as ‘the greatest entertainer in the world'”. Jolson was a longtime friend of the Shagrins, the obituary says.
Early in his career, Joseph worked as the manager of the Grand Opera House on the southwest corner of Central Square, Youngstown’s first real theater, which opened in 1872, according to the cinematreasures.org website.
The Shagrin twins were Jack Warner’s classmates, and Joseph Shagrin helped Jack of Warner Brothers get their first job in the entertainment business.
Max Shagrin later worked for the Warner Brothers and was zone manager for 14 Warner Brothers cinemas in Los Angeles.
Max later became one of Hollywood’s most famous agents, according to Joseph Shagrin’s obituary.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, now owned by Time Warner, is the No. 1 film production company of all time according to reelrundown.com.
Max Shagrin died in Hollywood in 1969. Steven said he and his father Joseph Shagrin Jr. found many Vindicator articles about the twins at Max Shagrin’s California home after Max died.
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