Dr. Know: Roy Rogers, Disappearing Theaters, and Street Names

The good doctor investigates the birthplace of a famous cowboy, a newly reopened theater, and the origin of Broadway Street.
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ILLUSTRATION BY LARS LEETARU

Roy Rogers, the famous movie/TV cowboy, used to joke that his Cincinnati birthplace was “now second base” at Riverfront Stadium. That’s not true, but many sources mistakenly say it is, including Roy! I’m a fan, and I bought his autobiography. That’s what he wrote. Did Roy forget he’d been joking? —TRIGGERED

DEAR TRIGGERED:
Gol’ dang it, but Roy Rogers started this gosh-dern mess himself when he stopped by Cincinnati in 1973. He saw his old downtown neighborhood had been bulldozed for Riverfront Stadium and said sumpthin’ ’bout second base replacin’ his birthplace. But, hey, he was jest joshin’! Old Cincinnati maps prove it: A bullet fired from Roy’s six-gun on his childhood front porch would have hit the dirt long before reaching that there future stadium! Roy’s joke, though, got all messed up. George Will, that baseball-crazy newspaper feller, wrote it as gospel. Then the Cincinnati Reds went and gave Roy an autographed second base!

The “King of the Cowboys” famously lived by the cowboy code of honesty. But ol’ Doc here is lookin’ straight at his 1994 autobiography, and right there Roy hisself said his old home was “now second base.” Tarnation! There’s an old saying: “When legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Ironically, whatever that means, the quote comes from an old cowboy movie (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). Looks like Roy fell under its spell. Sorry, pardner.

I’ve always preferred seeing movies at the Esquire, Mariemont, and Kenwood, Cincinnati’s group of small independent theaters. The Kenwood, though, closed over a year ago. So why do the Esquire and Mariemont websites still have links for it? It looks weird. Are they in denial? —UNSATISFYING ENDING

DEAR ENDING:
If you’d attended the big mainstream theaters and watched more superhero and sci-fi franchises, you’d know that anything, absolutely anything, can be rebooted, re-imagined, and revived. Even a movie theater. The Kenwood closed in July 2022, victim to a major reconstruction (or, if you prefer, an enormous explosion from an alien spaceship). But it’s now back! Be the first to see the exciting new sequel, Kenwood II: The Final Awakening Endgame Strikes Back Forever X!

The real story: Another theater, Envision, was across the street from the Kenwood, but it closed in 2020 and later re-opened as City Base Cinemas. Now it’s performing a mind-meld with its former neighbor. By the time you read this, you may already have seen the rebooted name “Kenwood Theatre” at the entrance (above Whole Foods and L.L. Bean), but this time with reserved seating and full dine-in and beverage service at your seats. The Kenwood Theatre links you saw on the Esquire and Mariemont websites were simply waiting for this moment, like a surprise ending. More of a surprise beginning, really. Or an Awakening. Maybe a Strike Back? See you at the movies.

You recently wrote about whether or not downtown’s Broadway is really called “Broadway Street.” But I also wonder: Since New York City’s Broadway wasn’t famous way back when, why did Cincinnati even call it Broadway? Was it actually extra-broad? And if it was, why? —BROADEN MY HORIZONS

DEAR HORIZONS:
Your hunch is correct: Long ago, Cincinnati’s Broadway was indeed wider than all other North-South streets. But before you congratulate yourself, please note the street’s original name: Eastern Row. This area of the riverfront became the prime spot for commercial ship traffic, so Eastern Row was fattened up and renamed Broad Way (two words) in 1808. Your other hunch that New York’s Broadway wasn’t famous back then, however, is wrong. While that thoroughfare had not yet turned recycled intellectual property into overpriced musicals, it was already well-known and highly regarded—or at least it didn’t smell like Cincinnati’s pig-packed landing.

Incidentally, when our Broadway was created, it widened only up to Fourth Street. Residents to the north wanted to stay slim and quiet. Today’s Broadway, though, spreads wide all the way up to Eggleston, after which it segments like the historical “Join or Die” sliced-up snake. Look it up, kids.

The controversy you mentioned about “Is it Broadway or Broadway Street?” was fearlessly investigated by the Doctor in our March 2022 issue. Look it up, adults.

Submit your questions about the city’s peculiarities here.

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