A fresh addition to World Cinema Paradise, the column titled “Movie-Watching Memories” will showcase brief pieces contributed by our columnists.
From the flickering lights of traditional theatres to the open-air allure of drive-ins, these articles will unravel the tapestry of our contributors’ diverse encounters.
It will offer a rich exploration of cinematic sentiment and shared experiences, painting vivid pictures of the magic that unfolds beyond the screen.
Join us as we delve into the unique stories that make each movie-watching memory a cherished part of our cinematic journey.
Movie-Watching Memories: The Quo Vadis
Indeed, there were more desirable places to watch movies.
Still, none matched the peculiar fascination of the Quo Vadis Theater at 7420 Wayne Road near Warren Road in the working-class suburb of Westland, Detroit.
The theatre was built by the Wayne Amusement Co. theatre chain and designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the renowned architect associated with the tragic World Trade Center.
The Quo Vadis, in all its peak overemphatic glitz, modernity, and vague Romanesque charm, was a complex marvel.
Adorned in blue and gold, the 1,200-seat ground-floor auditorium, twinned in 1970, premiered with the Doris Day comedy “The Glass-Bottom Boat.”
The lobby featured framed colour portraits from various MGM anniversary events and numerous seven-foot-tall Oscar statuettes, leaving me to ponder whether they were salvaged from a Hollywood junkyard after an Academy Awards show broadcast.
However, that was merely a glimpse of what lay ahead.
In 1968, an upper floor intended for a spacious upscale restaurant took an unexpected turn, giving rise instead to two intimate theatres, Penthouse I & II.
These theatres stood out for their unique design, featuring automated curtains that, during the daytime, gracefully slid open to reveal floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
Bathing patrons in natural light, the windows offered a panoramic view of bustling Wayne Road and the newly established Westland Mall.
The original restaurant concept persisted in a modified form. At the top of the stairs, a compact yet fully stocked and consistently lively bar welcomed patrons.
Just around the corner, the more modest yet impressive “Over 21 Club,” reminiscent of the Playboy Mansion, beckoned nighttime visitors to don headphones and enjoy movies from the adjacent Algiers Drive-In, also operated by Wayne Amusements.
Regrettably, the ambitious plan for a third-floor rooftop beer garden theatre accommodating 1,000 people remained unrealized.
I hold a mix of both cherished and sad memories from my experiences at the Quo Vadis.
The theatre was relatively lenient in enforcing the Under 17 Not Admitted without a Parent or Guardian rule for R-rated films, allowing teenagers to move freely between screens with a single ticket.
I confess to taking advantage of this lax oversight on several occasions, only getting caught once during a screening of Caddyshack.
Quick thinking and a handful of ticket stubs salvaged from the sticky floor helped me escape a scolding as the usher, upon my presenting a random stub, apologized profusely instead of ejecting my friend and me.
Despite the amusing outcome, a lingering sense of guilt remains.
To offset this mischievous episode, I compensated by legitimately purchasing tickets for numerous movies at the Quo Vadis.
One particularly memorable occasion involved a captivating afternoon watching Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff, a film that left such an impression that I returned for an evening viewing.
However, the Quo Vadis harbours a poignant memory that weighs on my conscience.
During ninth grade, my junior high school teacher, Fred Ochs, fostered my budding interest in film, showing short films on 16mm Bell & Howell projectors.
He introduced me to the works of animator-filmmaker Norman McLaren and other films from the National Film Board of Canada, leaving a lasting impact on my cinematic appreciation.
Tragically, Fred and his wife lost their lives over the summer while attempting to cross Wayne Road after attending a movie at the Quo Vadis, leaving behind three children.
Over time, the Quo Vadis underwent multiple screen subdivisions, with the smallest replacing the now-closed Over 21 Club, diminishing to a size smaller than my current home theatre.
Two years before my move to Los Angeles, my final visit was to see Mel Brooks’s Life Stinks on assignment from The Ann Arbor News.
This experience mirrored my sentiments as the Quo Vadis closed its doors for good in January 2002.
It remained vacant for years before demolition in 2002, leaving behind a lonely lot when I checked on Google Maps for this article. Quo Vadis, indeed?