George Fitzpatrick, artist and former manager of Heights Arts Theater, describes some of the Coventry characters that he ran into over the years working on and patronizing the commercial strip. Coventry, for Fitzpatrick, was an exciting, vibrant place for the young to be free to experiment, take risks, be creative, and grow into themselves.


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Fitzpatrick, George (interviewee)


Nemeth, Sara (interviewer)


Cleveland Heights



Document Type

Oral History


68 minutes


Sarah Nemeth [00:00:00] Hi, my name is Sarah Nemeth. I'm here today with George Fitzpatrick. Today is August 15, 2018. This is for the Cleveland Regional Oral History Project. Would you please state your name for the record?

George Fitzpatrick [00:00:12] I'd be happy to there. My name is George Fitzpatrick, and I was born in Cleveland ... in 1942.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:24] And whereabout in Cleveland did you grow up?

George Fitzpatrick [00:00:29] I grew up in an area called West Park, on a little off West 117th Street in Cleveland.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:36] What was the atmosphere like growing up?

George Fitzpatrick [00:00:40] Well, everybody on our street was aunt this and uncle that. So I go across the street, and there was Aunt Ruth, and I go down the street, and it was Uncle Joe and Aunt Elsie, Uncle Ralph and Aunt Dorothy. And that's just the neighborhood, you know, and kids could run wild at that time because, you know, there was no real fear of kids being abducted and everything. So I would, as a little kid, we would walk a couple miles from our house and play in parks all day long and then come back for food, you know, when we were hungry and everything. And that changed a little bit when I was in elementary school, because there was a girl named Beverly Potts, and she was in. She was in a park called Halloran Park one night, and she was there with a girlfriend of hers. She was, like, nine or ten years old, and suddenly there was no more Beverly Potts. That was in, like, 1951, and they have never found her. Never ever.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:42] So that was like a shock?

George Fitzpatrick [00:01:44] It was the most famous case of its time in Cleveland. Yeah. So, you know, she went to the elementary school I did, and everything. She's a year or two older than me.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:53] Did parents start to keep a more watchful eye after that incident?

George Fitzpatrick [00:01:58] I suppose a little bit, yeah, I would think so. You know, it was just. But, you know, it was just a very carefree time and, you know, the country, because everybody else basically in World War Two got blown to smithereens, and we were the only one left standing. You know, we had all the economy in the world and everything, so it was very common for almost all our neighbors to have a new car at least every two years, you know. We were poor, we didn't have a car, but almost everybody else did. And, you know, it was just common, you know.

Sarah Nemeth [00:02:33] So where did you go to high school?

George Fitzpatrick [00:02:37] I went to a school called West Tech, which is on West 93rd and Lorain. No longer a school, now an apartment building. And I was a very crazy kid. I took art and my final year of high school, which I had my own classroom in high school because the teachers - I liked modern art, they hated modern art - and so I was, like, segregated to myself. And so I had eight periods of art. At lunch was my high school schedule. And it was really fun because a few years ago, they put me in the hall of fame for being an artist. And I said, I bet you the only kid in here that's ever had to graduate from night school in order to be at your hall of fame, which I thought was really funny at the time. So that was in 1961. And as a kid, what happened to me, my father died when I was real young and I was the only kid. And my mother was a diabetic. And on a good year, she'd only be in the Cleveland Clinic 100 days as a patient, on a bad year, 200 days. So I sort of raised myself. And after the age of about eleven or twelve or so, I was the boss and she was the child, and I told her what to do. It was the reverse of what it ought to be, you know. So a lot of my memories as a kid was taking the rapid transit or the bus over to the east side, and at the rapid transit, getting off at University Circle, walking to the art museum for a while, and then seeing her at the Cleveland Clinic, having some food and taking the rapid home. So, you know, I mean, everybody has their hassles in life. Everybody does. You know, a billionaire has their hassles in life. Makes no difference at all. So what happened to us was, and it really saved me, I had a couple of scholarships for athletics in high school, and my mother was too poor to keep this little house we lived in. So she puts it on the market and it sells. And we had a friend who lived on the east side, and she suggested we move to East Cleveland in an apartment, which we did. And all of my friends on the west side and everything, they visited me one time, and that was it. And so I was very lucky because as a kid, where we get off the bus for where the bus stopped on this street on the way to high school, there was an Italian family there. The woman made breakfast for me every day, which was really nice of her. While one of her kids grew up to be the drug kingpin of the west side of Cleveland. He took over from Danny Greene. And in that, I wasn't able to take any college scholarships after high school because I had to take care of my mother. You know, this move was just, you know, I didn't think so at the time, but it turned out to be a wonderful thing for me because, you know, when you, you slide into things in life, and I would have slid right into the gang. It would have been so simple. And so I was really fortunate that I moved to the east side of Cleveland. So.

Sarah Nemeth [00:05:58] What was your remembrances of the east side of Cleveland, maybe in comparison to the west side?

George Fitzpatrick [00:06:06] Well, first of all, I didn't know anybody, so that was a big thing. I knew the art museum because I used to haunt that place as a young kid and everything. My mother or my father would take me there when he was alive. And it was a long jaunt because we didn't have a car. So, you know, my memories were the art museum, but I was pretty well lost when we first came to the east side and everything. And we lived around Lee Road and Euclid Avenue in an apartment that in ten years went from $84 a month to 86.50, went up $2.50 in ten years, the rent, just hard to imagine in today's world. And lo and behold, a guy opened an art gallery a couple doors away from where we lived in a big mansion on Euclid Avenue. And I started haunting that place, and I became like one of his assistants in this place. I'm like, 18, 19 years old. And it was just really very exciting for me. So I, you know, in fact, I just talked to him today on the phone just a couple of hours ago. But it was really, you know, it's all I've ever wanted to do is be an artist and everything. And I thought that would really be impossible because I was, never had any money, and it's very hard to be an artist if you have no money. So I got involved with this theater, movie theater chain because the dean of Cleveland College, which was then part of Western Reserve University, thought I was a really precocious kid at age, like, 20. And he wanted me to run a program for this thing called the Cleveland Center for the Arts at the time, and that subsequently folded. That didn't work. A couple of big companies, Sohio was one company, and I think we published, gave them a lot of money to start this, but it just didn't click. So they wanted me to learn about movies, and I didn't know anything about foreign films, so they got me a job at one of these art theaters and everything. And it was just, you know, I really was sort of lost at first. I didn't know anything about it. And there was a theater maybe a mile from our house on Euclid Avenue. So that's why I was, would work at. And basically, over the course of another few years. Through, basically, the process of attrition more than I'm talented at it, I became the boss. And I sort of. It was a wonderful company to work for. Because they were located, for the most part, in Arizona. But I lived in Cleveland. And it was great because they just left me alone. They picked the movies. But I could do everything else I wanted to. So it was like a family. So having been thrown out of the theater in East Cleveland, through a variety of circumstances - it was called the Continental - they wouldn't allow me to, even though I lived in East Cleveland, they would not allow me to work in East Cleveland. So I had to come up to the Heights Theater. Which is the intersection of Euclid Heights and Coventry. So I started up here. And it was right at the time. That Coventry was really changing from- Basically it was a very well-to-do area in the twenties and early thirties. I remember I had a woman who I called aunt. And my Aunt Dorothy worked for a shop called Pointers, which was a very exclusive hair salon in Cleveland. I don't exactly know what store but Euclid Heights and Coventry, say, and Mrs. Severance would come there. And Mrs. Prentiss, the founder of the Cleveland Orchestra, and all these wealthy people would come there. She was my, the woman who I called the aunt, was the receptionist there. So she would tell me stories about these people. And there's a huge pile of stone up on Coventry. That used to be a nunnery years ago. It's the biggest house. It's the stone house that's on the east side of the street. Between Cedar and Fairmount. All stone, big stone and everything. And that was owned by some guy named Mr. Nutt, who committed suicide during the depression. He was a banker, one of the banks in Cleveland. And jumped off a building or whatever at that time. And lost his fortune and everything. So that was my first time knowing anything about Coventry. So I come up here. And it's right at the time. A lot of kosher stores. A lot of Jewish stores were at Coventry at the time. A few different delis and all. A Jewish bakery called Newmark's. Sid and Dave's donut shop. There was a kosher chicken place. Where you could get a live chicken. And they could go [makes a sound], like that. And. Which would be Marc's parking lot today. That's where that was. So it was very Jewish. And the first store that I remember of hippiedom would have been probably 1968, and it was a store called the Coven Tree. And it was closer to- It would be closer to Hampshire, Hampshire, and Coventry. Linda, I can't think of Linda's last name offhand, but Linda ran that store. That was the first store. And then a guy named Morry Leeds had a store called 1864 Coventry [1864 General Store], on the opposite side of the street. And it had like a big soda bar in it and everything. And then downstairs, a guy named Bill Jones had a leather shop that started and everything. And those were the first few. Well, you know, one thing happens after the other, and suddenly there's half a dozen stores. And what was really interesting at that time, the police were really concerned that this was the headquarters of the syndicate dope industry in Ohio. And there was a time that three people could not gather on Coventry because the police would break them up. Because there was like. They thought, you know, drug dealing was going on. Three people. And so, you know, you might have 15 police, 20 police on the street at one time. The Hells Angels had a bar. It was called the C-Saw bar. And one guy was killed in that one night. And one of my things that I remember from the theater was I was standing outside one night. I'm now there all the time at what's called the Heights Theater. Then I'm standing out, and about 50 bikers go by on their bikes, which is very impressive when you see a thing like that. One of the people who worked in the leather shop, Bill Jones Leather Shop was a guy named Beetle. His name was James Bailey. And in 1975, he's in the Hell's Angels. About as meek and mild of a guy as you could ever imagine. You know, it's, like, laughable when you think, you know, not exactly a tough guy. So he and two other guys are going out to a Hell's Angel convention, let's say in Nebraska or Montana, somewhere like that. It's 1975, and these three guys passed a rifle range, and the people in the rifle range just took aim. And they killed Beetle and hurt another guy. And one guy got away. So Beatle's killed. It's in '75. So Tommy of Tommy's restaurant and I, we drive out together. I drive them out to the funeral is going to be in Mentor. And so we drive out there, and there's about 175 or 200 Hell's Angels from. Mostly from the United States, but some from England and some from Germany, as I recall. So the people at the funeral home, I mean, they just were backed against the wall, you know, they just, you know, were really quiet. So Beetle had just broken up a short time before with his girlfriend, a girl named Jennifer. And Jennifer was in Toronto with her mother at the time. So I had the unfortunate duty of calling Jennifer to tell her what happened to Beetle and everything. So she's back there and everything. So Tommy and I go in the funeral home, and Jennifer waves to me. So I sit next to her for a while, and I hear this sound behind me, all this clanking and stuff, okay, sort of by the center aisle of this thing? And I really didn't turn around. I'm sort of looking straight ahead, the caskets in front of me. And he's in his Hell's Angel colors. And so I'm there, and there's this guy with a huge beer belly with, like, chains all over him with knives. It's crazy. And Jennifer says he's a vice president of the Hell's Angels in New York, and he's a cab driver in New York City. That's what he was. So that's one of the interesting people in the area. And I'll think of this guy. He probably died when he was 25 or so. You know, I mean, it's just what happens in life, you know, if you live long enough, you're going to get older, but you'll know, you know, he'll seem like a kid to you now. So I got to know Tommy, because Tommy worked in a store called Ace Drug, and it was not too far from the movie theater. And a man named Fauzi from Lebanon owned it. And Fauzi decides this is about 1970 or '71. Fauzi decides he's going to move back to peaceful, beautiful Lebanon with his family, and he wants somebody to buy the store. Well, Tommy in high school worked there all the time. After high school, he'd be over. And anybody that knows Tommy knows how honest he is and everything. And Fauzi took a real liking to him and told Tommy how to make different Lebanese Middle Eastern dishes and all. So Tommy did that, and so Fauzi wants to sell it. So Fauzi approaches Tommy's parents, Bill, and in us fellow, about that, Tommy should take this over. This is somebody who's, like, maybe almost 17 years old at this time, or maybe 17 and a half like that. And so his parents go to come to maybe half a dozen people. I don't know how many I'm included. And they say, well, is this a good idea for our kid to do this? Because we have to sign for this and everything? And I said, you know, I said, I'm sure what everyone else said, that he's really beloved already in this area at that age, people really love the guy. It's a sure thing, you know, for him to do that. And it's obviously proven so and everything. So Tommy's older brother Bobby worked for me for a while. So the fellow who was the boss of the theater then, who I worked for, was this really gruff guy who a lot of people really despised because as people are walking in the theater or they're waiting, sort of penned up for the next show, he would basically call them pigs and cattle right to their face. It was just, who does that? And when? This guy, the fellow. I gave you some information about the film, The Lovers, and the man at the theater then who was the boss was this very suave, dignified Italian man named Nico Jacobellis. And Nico quit over a fight with the owner he wanted, the owner's nephew wanted to show some experimental films, underground movies. Nico wanted no part of it. Well, the owner gets the way always. So, you know, it was the I quit, you're fired conversation. So Nico's out, this dignified gentleman, and he is replaced by essentially, like, in a way, a mobster from Youngstown, Ohio. It was priceless. So I'm there with a bunch of other people, and we're all like, assistants, okay? And as fate would have it, I'm the only non-gay guy there. Well, he hates gay guys. He fires all the gay guys. [laughs] And so I'm there. I'm just pure attrition, nothing else. So Ben doesn't know Cleveland real well, the boss. So he wants me to take him around to restaurants in Cleveland. So I start doing that after the show at night. And we go one night to a restaurant in Erieview Plaza. It was a Stouffer's restaurant on like, the 30 or 40th floor of some building. And we go there and it's a restaurant I used to go with friends on occasion. So we get there and it's maybe 11:30, 12:00 at night, something like that. Places, there's some people in it, and, you know, the waitress brings our menu menus over and everything. And then he calls the waitress and says, hey, slut. Think of that. I mean, you know, you would get a pot of boiling coffee, but for some crazy reason, people took that from this guy. So it was just really wild. So back to Tommy's brother, Bobby. So Bobby's at the theater one night. Regrettably, I missed this, but it's a true story. So Bobby's there one night, and some guy comes in the theater without either a shirt on or a pair of shoes. So Ben says, you can't come in here. And Ben is usually obnoxious, probably tells what, you know, this guy is a complete jerk. Get out of here. And so he comes back with a gun to kill Ben. [laughs] And so Ben's in the lobby, and the guy pulls a gun, and Bobby, who's an athlete, he's in high school, pushes this guy out of the way and gets shot in the toe. So that's Tommy's brother's story and everything, but, you know, just the fascinating things that have happened like that over the years. You know, I really. It was a wonderful time to be on the street because it felt really alive. It really did. And there was a thing called the, you know, Coventry street festival, or whatever they called it, put together by a handful of people. Alan Rapoport was one, a guy named Larry Beam, a woman named Catherine. Catherine Young, her name was, and a few others. And poof, there's suddenly 50,000 people on the street and everything. And it was, you know, it just was a great time. Everybody had a good time. Nobody got killed or beat up or any of that stuff. But, you know, it gradually transformed into this really wonderful thing. And it lasted a number of years, and, like all things, it wears itself out after a time. So that was like that. So if you got any questions, I could-

Sarah Nemeth [00:21:52] Yeah. So where did you move to when you first moved to? Did you move to Coventry area, like around here?

George Fitzpatrick [00:21:59] Well, no. What? I got married. My wife and I got married in '72. We met in Toronto, and we lived around a street called Kenilworth. Well, we first lived at Shaker Square in an apartment, and then we lived in a beautiful apartment at Kenilworth and Derbyshire in Cleveland Heights, sort of closer to the top of Cedar Hill over there. It was really a nice place. And then we bought a house, a small farmhouse, on Fairmount Boulevard. And then we raised our kid there. I don't know. We were there for maybe ten years, and then I'd always wanted to live in this area because I could walk to the theater. I could just walk across the street, and I'm at work and everything. And so we buy this house, and of course, a month later, the owner decides he wants to unload all the theaters. So he asked me if I want to buy this place, and I said, really? You know, I really want to do my art. That's really more important to me. One of the great things about the theater, I had a giant office, and I was able to do 20-foot-long pieces just on one of the walls in my office. And I was left almost completely alone. I mean, it's just a job from Oz. And, you know, so, you know, I'm in a position, do I buy this theater or not? And, no, I don't want to buy it because it's, you know, that you can imagine what a heating bill on a place with a 50 or 60 foot ceiling and all that stuff that it entails. And I really wanted to be left alone to do my art. So that's what my wife was a school teacher, taught kindergarten in Shaker. So she said, well, why don't I earn the money for, you know, earn the money and you stay home and just do art? So that's what I proceeded to do for a number of years. And, you know, I've been lucky enough to make a couple shekels over there years. Just the cup. No more. Just the cup.

Sarah Nemeth [00:23:56] So what would be your first impression- What was your first impression of Coventry, like, walking on the street for the first time, like when you arrived?

George Fitzpatrick [00:24:05] Oh, I think it was really exciting because there were just. There was just really a lot happening. You could see change in the year and real positive. And if you're a kid, this would be really exciting and everything. Things were really happening. The old people, essentially, the older stores, the little meat markets and things like that, were sort of on their way out because those people had done it for 30 years or more, and they're on their way out, and the new generation is taking the street over, and that was really, really exciting. There are some fascinating people over the years that were around here.

Sarah Nemeth [00:24:43] So was there a large, like, youth culture in Coventry?

George Fitzpatrick [00:24:47] Oh, yeah, yeah. One fella, you know, there's just endless number of people. A guy named Ralph Poplar with his wife, Deidre. Ralph used to walk down the street with this giant ostrich headdress in a gold lemay jock strap. He would walk- [laughs] And, you know, I mean, it's just very entertaining people, you know, and creative people. A lot of real creative people lived around in here and everything. And more and more stores are opening up and Earth Shoe and all of these sort of things, but it was great. And wine stores opened up and just, you know, was wonderful place.

Sarah Nemeth [00:25:27] Was there tension between the police? I think you kind of mentioned, like, the police.

George Fitzpatrick [00:25:32] Yes. Yeah, there was at first and everything, because they thought this was, you know, you know, hippiedom. And the, you know, drug culture has arrived in Cleveland Heights. And it was really- Or Cleveland. This was the area. And so that's where the police would march up and down the streets. You know, there might be 15 police, just coventry marching up to say if there's three people together, you're loitering. You'll be arrested if you don't separate.

Sarah Nemeth [00:25:58] Did you know anyone that was arrested for loitering?

George Fitzpatrick [00:26:01] I know- No, I don't know for loitering, I can't say. But I know I had a friend, a really good poet, Daniel Thompson, his name was. And Daniel got arrested for jaywalking several times. I think how nuts that is. Who cares? You know, it's a little straight, but he was arrested and he had a good time with the police just hassling them about stupid little things like that. And he had the time to do it, obviously, and all. But at the time, you know, when we moved here, we didn't know anybody on this particular block. But I knew basically all the people on Coventry and everything. And there are some real characters. There was a bike store. There's now a Thai restaurant on the corner of Coventry and Hampshire Road and all. And that was called Pee Wee's Bicycle Shop. And Pee Wee, being a small guy, as you would imagine from that name, once gave me a unicycle to give away at the theater. And I give away crazy things and all. So. Or no, I'm sorry. Erase that part. Somebody gave me a waterbed to give away one time. We have it in the middle of the lobby. One of Cleveland's very prominent families in the Civil War was the George Worthington family. They were big suppliers for Civil War stuff in Cleveland, for the Union, of course. And George Worthington Hoyt, descendant of this guy, lived on Lancashire Road over here. And he would drive a truck, basically with chicken crates on top. I mean, it's just, you know. And he would. After the movie would close at night, after the experimental films on Saturday night would close, he'd go around and pick up all the tickets on the floor that people had left. Well, of course he won it. So he didn't know what to do with it after he won this damn thing. So I bought it from him and all. But one of the more interesting people in the area, who's one of the, in a way, probably the most famous person I've covered in the last year is, and that's Harvey Pekar. So the first time I ever meet Harvey, I'm now running the Heights theater. And I have a manager over there. And my manager, a guy named John Richmond, invites me and some other guy over for a spaghetti dinner in the theater building. He lived there. So I bring a couple bottles of wine. And John's making spaghetti and a salad. And this other guy walks in and says, God, I don't know how I'm going to afford to eat this week because I just spent $125 for one 78 jazz record I could not live without. And he had no food. I mean, this was $125. That's, I'm sure, more than he made in a week. He was a file clerk at the VA. So that was my first, you know, you know, time with Harvey and everything. And then a couple years after that, maybe three years after that, he starts his comic book, American Splendor, it's called. So I'm in a wonderful position. I'm working at this theater showing underground movies. So I'll buy like, 100 copies of, lots and lots of copies, and I just hand them out to people as they're walking through the door. And it's great for me because I can write that off to somebody else. The guy in Arizona, I don't have to personally pay for it. And, you know, it's all fine with the company to do that. So I probably bought a thousand or more of them from Harvey, which I'm really glad to be able to do. And Harvey in turn was kind enough to write a pile of stories about me. Always trying to make a buck on 'em, never almost succeeding, but not quite. Never made a buck on any of 'em. But I got to know Harvey's wife and everything. In fact, I just had an art show in Cleveland. And Harvey's wife- Harvey died a number of years ago. And probably five years ago now. So his wife's name's Joyce. So when I found out Harvey had died, he was famous enough to get the front page of the Cleveland paper. Literally the whole page, or damn close to the whole page. And the lead reviewer in the New York Times that day of the famous people who died. So I go over to see Joyce, and I say, hey, Joyce, is there anything you want me to do? You know, and I've known these folks for a long time. And they say, yeah, Harvey really liked Daniel Thompson. Try to find a really nice grave site for Harvey. So, okay, so I go over to Lake View Cemetery. That's their first date. Harvey and Joyce's first date was at Lake View Cemetery. She's from Baltimore. So I go over to the cemetery prepared, figuring nobody in a place like this could ever have heard of a guy named Harvey Pekar. And I go there, and the manager of the cemetery had not heard of him. But it turned out the president of the cemetery association was there. And he knew all about Harvey. So I said, well, you know, Joyce is telling me, Harvey would like, to be close to Daniel Thompson. So we go up to- And I didn't know exactly where Daniel's buried. Daniel was so popular his funeral was at the Church of the Covenant, and there was easily 800 people there, from Indian chiefs to rabbis to people in rags to people in formal outfits. Just everything you could imagine. It was really something to see. So, you know, the president of the cemetery takes me up to where Daniel's buried, and he's going to be cremated. So there's just going to be a little box about that big. Joyce said, just pick one out. It could be cracked. She doesn't care. Just a small, cheap one. Okay. So we thought, you know, there really isn't a space. It's all filled. But there's a bush there by this tree. And I said, well, how about here? Just move the bush. I mean, how hard is that? You know, it doesn't have to be a big thing. And she, or the guy says, fine, let's do that. So the next morning, I bring Joyce over, and we all sit around crying and say, this is where he's going to be. And she's real pleased. And because he's famous, he gets a discount price to the cemetery if you're famous. And they want famous people, so it's a draw for them to have famous people. So it's, like, much cheaper than it would be for me. I know that. So Joyce signs all the paperwork and everything. I'm not there when she signs it, but she signs all the formal paperwork and blah, blah, blah. And they're going to, you know, he's going to get cremated and all. So my wife and I are with some friends from out of town go out to dinner, and we get a call from Daniel's old girlfriend saying, I wanted to be buried there. And I tell the woman, well, there isn't really any place. And she said, I want to be in a casket. And I said, well, there isn't anywhere it's filled. This is just a little thing to the side by a bush. You know, that's all it is. And I said, well, what they do with people now, they bury them on top of one another. If you want to be in a casket, there's not a lot of room. One's on the top and one's underneath. First and second floor, underground in a way. So she says, no, no, no. I don't want that. Or she wants her own monument. And I said, let's put another monument there. Who cares? No, no, no. And it ends up she says, well, they told me this years ago. Well, first of all, the cemetery has no record of anything, okay? Nothing. Because I went through their paperwork, and it gets to be like a Harvey Pekar comic book, this crazy story. And a couple people in front of Coventry Books down here. A guy named Lee and another guy named- I can't think of the other guy's name who lives on Hyde Park over here. Got into fistfight over this, about taking sides about this. So that's when I said, I bow out. You know, it's just- It's too crazy. So the president of the cemetery suggests to Joyce, how about if we put him next to Eliot Ness in the cemetery? And she says, oh, that sounds good. Let's put him there. So when the ceremony was to put Harvey in the ground and everything, you know, by Eliot Ness and everything, we're all there. And we all put a know, a handful of shovel of dirt and whatever, you know, with the urn and everything, with the little marble box, the black box - I thought he liked black, that's why I picked it - over there and everything. But, you know, it really makes for a wonderful Harvey story. And at the cemetery, people were talking about Harvey. Some guy had a big puppet there, you know. And I told this story about first meeting Harvey and spending all the money for one 78 record and everything, which was truly Harvey, if you know him. He's always dithering about something. Always. Everything was a crisis all the time. Yeah. And it just, you know, it just was really nice and all. So he was another real interesting person from this area, you know.

Sarah Nemeth [00:35:52] So when he first arrived here, Jewish kind of enclave, or families were kind of moving out?

George Fitzpatrick [00:35:59] Yeah. The families had been in the process of moving from here to University Heights or maybe to Beachwood at that time, just going in that direction. But there were still stores here. And there was a wonderful bakery called Newmark's, which was on the opposite side of the street from the movie theater. Sort of, say, where, not where Marc's is today. A little bit to the north of that, a couple of stores. And if you go there late at night and knock on the back door, the baker would be there. And you could buy a loaf of bread. And if you sit around and hang around and talk to him for a few minutes, you could get, like half a pound of butter and a couple of beers if you wanted to. But probably the most fun deli was Irv's Deli, which I'm sure you've heard a lot about over the years. And it was a gathering place for a lot of people, including a guy named Sig Gold, who was a wonderful conversationalist. So a lot of people hung around Sid all the time. And Sid always was in the process of writing a novel, which never quite got finished. But his brother, Herb Gold, is a pretty prominent writer in San Francisco. I mean, prominent enough that when the New York- When he come out with a new book, it would be the front page of the New York Times Book Review. That prominent. So. But Sid died a number of years ago. But he was a person who would always be hanging around Coventry, you know, always free to pontificate on any subject you care to talk about. And he was knowledgeable enough that he could do that, or people believed him, one or the other, [laughs] that could pick on the subject at all. But that was another person in the neighborhood. Any more questions?

Sarah Nemeth [00:37:46] Yes. So what did the theater look like inside the interior, if you describe that?

George Fitzpatrick [00:37:52] Oh, it was pretty crappy. You know, there was, you know, there was an entrance lobby in a lobby with a big candy stand in it, and then there was one screen, and maybe it had 750 or 800 seats downstairs. And the man who owned it, the man who I could have bought it from, really didn't do much of anything. He just did the bare minimum to it. And a few years ago, after I didn't want it, a couple other people got involved with it. And since, let's say, spent a million and a half dollars, and they made three theaters out of it and it looked really terrific, but they couldn't make a go of it because there's not enough parking. And if you look around to any movie theater in Cleveland, you'll see parking is next door, virtually everywhere. And this didn't have that. And after these Clevelanders tried it, they failed. And then a company called Landmark out in L.A. tried it and may failed, and that was. So now it's a church. And this church has a wonderful slogan that "We are here to make Jesus famous." I just love that. That's their mission, to make Jesus famous. Whoever heard of Jesus, right? [laughs] Just too wonderful for words. And it must be popular because they had one service on Sunday and now they have two.

Sarah Nemeth [00:39:21] Oh, wow. So they're really making Jesus famous.

George Fitzpatrick [00:39:25] They're doing what they can, you know, they're making him famous. What can I say? You know, the hell with the Vatican. That's here at Cleveland Heights. They're going to make him famous. So. Yeah, so that was, you know, just a, you know, just a couple of people I'm talking about. It's just. Any more questions?

Sarah Nemeth [00:39:44] Yeah, definitely. So when you became. Okay, so around 1971, there is a man named David Reynolds. Do you remember him? Of Coventry Station?

George Fitzpatrick [00:39:56] What was his name?

Sarah Nemeth [00:39:57] David Reynolds.

George Fitzpatrick [00:39:58] No, I don't remember the name.

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:00] He, I guess, was an organizer for the Coventry Station and he was trying to open up some sort of nonprofit organization for people to come to. But he had a run in with you in the newspaper, and I didn't know if he remembered it.

George Fitzpatrick [00:40:15] He had a run in with me?

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:17] Yeah.

George Fitzpatrick [00:40:19] [laughs] Must have been really important in my life.

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:22] Well, he wanted to have a free concert at the theater.

George Fitzpatrick [00:40:25] Oh, well, we had concerts all the time.

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:27] And you said no. And then he accused you of being-

George Fitzpatrick [00:40:31] Rightfully so, no doubt! [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:34] Accused you of being harassed by the police, and that's why-

George Fitzpatrick [00:40:37] Oh. You know, first of all, that that could have not, you know, first of all, that could not- We wanted the Supreme Court of the United States, the police- I remember meeting the police chief one time and the owner. We were the last theater in this company. The owner realized after a while how much he could make on porno. And it was the birth of porno in theaters. And one guy in San Francisco who was working with us, a guy named Alex de Renzi, had two theaters that had 50 seats in them. And he went to Denmark and he filmed a pornography convention. All he did is film like magazine covers, and just filmed it. That's all he did, you know, there's no porn, you know? And on the first two engagements at the World Theater in New York and whatever the hell the name of it was, I think probably the North Beach Movie in San Francisco made a million dollars on a, poof, a million bucks. It cost him ten grand to make, ten grand. And he bought it back as unprocessed film. Well, the owner is thinking, oh, this is a lot of money, you know. And then he decides he's going to make, a couple guys- There's a real famous screenwriter whose name is Stirling Silliphant, who did In the Heat of the Night, and a pile of other stuff. Well, Stirling's brother Allan wanted to make the world's first 3D skin flick, okay? And so he starts making this thing. And our manager in San Francisco says, Lou, the owner of the company, Lou, you should really invest in this. This is a good deal, man. You're going to make a lot of money. And this is the 1970, '71, '69. And so Lou invests some money. He invests $117,000 in this. So every week they change this film. It's shown in a couple of theaters on the coast, and they change it. And it's like it would be on TV today. It wouldn't be on NBC, but it would be on a cable channel. You wouldn't think twice about it, nor would you bat an eye anymore. But it was the world's first 3D skin flick and it made $54 million. So, Lou, that year we had an office in the penthouse of the Paramount Building at Times Square. And Lou decided to move to a classier office. And he bought himself a Renaissance throne, you know, and it's just he was, you know, he was just a really happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He was not an evil, you know, he just, you know, he decided he was going to make some money and he did, and he just, you know, just, just this fascinating stuff that, you know, happened and everything. So this is just a preamble. So he decides he's going to show hardcore X-rated movies. So my theater here is the last one that. I don't have him over here. I don't want 'em over here. Well, he's the owner. You have a choice of two things, okay? It's all you got, yes or no. And if it's no, it's [makes a sound], like that, out the window you go. But the people that worked in the theater were family. They were my family. And I still know some of them today, and we're still friends. And, you know, it's 30 some years ago now that this is gone and everything. So I decide, well, I gotta do this, but I'm gonna really discourage this. Okay? So I have two films daily on the marquee. That's it. Doesn't say anything about what they are. And the sign is about- It's not nine by twelve inches, it's smaller than that. And just, these are the names of the movies and these are the times. So the police chief in Cleveland Heights calls me over one day and he's got his feet up, his cowboy boots on the desk. He's going to intimidate me. Give me a break. I mean, this. You're not going to do that. I'm trying my best, okay, to make this not happen. Just don't be a jerk, okay? And I didn't say that, of course, but, you know, he's trying to say how important he is and I'm like a low-life off the street or. He didn't say that, but that's the intention. And I said, you know, first of all, there's nothing I can do. And as I recall, we won in the Supreme Court of the United States, and you guys will spend all the money you want and you will lose. There's no way you can win because we have the best lawyers money can buy. You don't. You have some city prosecutor. And we're going to win, you know, ten times over, you'll never win. So that shot him up for a while. So it took two years of doing that for me to convince the owner to show repertoire movies, you know, which was a real pain in the ass because I had to change films three times a week. And it's just a lot of work. He'd say, oh, do that, you know, but that caused, you know, 30, you know, from working 8 hours a week to working 50 hours a week, overnight. So that's how that was. And I changed the name of the theater, and I wanted to change it from Heights Art Theater to Coventry Cinema just because it had that connotation to it of X-rated films. So I call up the mayor, a guy named Alan Rapoport here, and I say, Alan, I want to change the name. And he said, well, you will have to go before the board of architectural review in Cleveland Heights. Is it architectural review or-

Sarah Nemeth [00:46:44] The Heights Congress?

George Fitzpatrick [00:46:45] Well, they were- They were where the old- Where the Honda place is today, where Heights Motors is? That's the front of the old city hall. So I go over there. Is it architectural board of review or zoning? It's probably zoning. Yeah. So I go over there, and there's three or four people in sort of crappy room, and they're all like a little dais raised higher than anybody else. And the people before me, I'm there, and it takes, like, an hour to go through all these dumb cases. And somebody there wants to move, either wants to move the fence six inches, or they want to increase the height of a fence than six inches. And their architect, you know how large architectural drawings are? They're like this. He had two architectural drawings made to show this. And they say, come back next month, you know. You know, like that. You're nothing, you know? And I made it- And see, they were told that they had to agree to what I wanted because it's your choice is either repertoire or porn. That's your choice. And either I get my way or that's it. And I picked up a scrap of paper on the floor, and I wrote Coventry Cinema so everybody could see it. And I said, this is what I'm going to do. And, you know, and you could see them squirm, you know, they're just squirming in their chairs and everything. And, you know, I tried. I tried my best, you know, and it just, you know. But people get so bent out of shape when they hear things like that. They think the world's coming to an end, you know? And it's just so stupid. It's just another facet of life. That's all it is, you know. And that was a real triumphal moment for me. That's my only triumphal moment in city hall ever. Ever. But it was. I'm glad that happened, I'll tell you. So, next question.

Sarah Nemeth [00:48:49] So was there a large, in the seventies, a large drug scene in Coventry?

George Fitzpatrick [00:48:56] Oh, yeah, seventies and in the eighties. And I contributed greatly to that at that time. As a matter of fact, I personally helped support any number of people by buying their products. And, yeah, there was one guy, I don't think it matters anymore. Murray Saul. And Murray was a famous disc jockey on WMMS, a wonderful dope supplier, actually. Loved it. Loved it. $40 an ounce for pure gold marijuana from Mexico. And that gets $40 an ounce. So Murray lived next door to the theater. Theater building. And if he would open his front. If you're looking at the front of the theater, the apartment immediately to the left, there are some windows that open up. There's two porches. Murray lived on the left hand side of that. If you just opened those windows, people could get high. You wouldn't even have to have anything. That would be enough, you know? So I remember I was over there one night, and lovely Linda from Cincinnati is there, so she's doing coke in another- There's like 30 people. It's a permanent party. Okay. And how the guy ever lived, you know, through all this is beyond me. But people did that stuff all the time, you know, and it was just. It was recreation. It's what kids did at that time, as opposed to drinking a lot of alcohol. That's all it was. And I remember when I quit smoking cigarettes in '76, that's around the time our kid was going to be born. My wife was hassling me to quit smoking cigarettes because I'd smoke two packs a week, and I spent- I got it down to about a pack a week. And then I went to a hypnotist, okay? And I went to see this guy in Beachwood. He was one of three recommended by the Cleveland Clinic. At that time, it cost 40 or $45 an hour to visit a hypnotist recommended by the Cleveland Clinic. So he convinced me, and hypnosis, to me, was wonderful. It's just so relaxing. And basically, he drilled it into my head, was, if somebody would offer you $1,000 let's say to smoke another cigarette, you'd have to tell him no. So that was the last time I ever smoked. So fast forward a few more years when I was smoking a lot of grass. And I just decided I'd been spending $175 an ounce for quite a while. And my supplier at Christmas that year only had this crummy stuff he said was 150 an ounce. And I said, well, I'll take an ounce. Dumb me. It was terrible. It was just God awful. And I said, what the hell am I doing spending all this money on this? And I just quit. And I never smoked again. And it was nothing to quit. Cigarettes are so much harder to quit. And now that marijuana is going to gradually become legal everywhere, in time, I view cigarettes as a hell of a lot more dangerous. I really do. And, you know, people can- I personally have never known anyone. And I'm sure there are lots of people that have. But I've never known anyone that went from this to that to that to that. You know, they either started out with, you know, LSD or they started with coke or whatever. And I did coke a few times and, what's it called? Hash. But that's about it. You know? But I had a good time. Ten years worth. Twelve years worth. That's enough. You know? It's not part of my life anymore. And a few years ago somebody was sitting on this very porch and comes over here and says, hey, let's light up. And he always lit up with me. Okay? And I. You know. I'm not going to be holier than thou. I just- No, no. You know. So I said, okay. And it was unusual because you would put the grass on, it wasn't a pipe, like a pipe. It was the end of a pipe. You'd like, put it in this little thing. It was like a little filter. And you'd think it would fall out. I've never. I've never seen-

Sarah Nemeth [00:53:26] Was it the guard-like looking thing that has holes at the base?

George Fitzpatrick [00:53:29] It's at the end. It's right at the end. Okay. So I go, [makes a coughing sound]. Like that. And I coughed for five minutes or so. And he said, well, George. This was $800 an ounce or 600. It was one or the other. And I thought, God, that's a lot of money. And I took another small toke like that. And that was high the rest of the day. But that's. That was years ago now. And it's just- It's not part of my life. I don't have any objection to it. Kids try things. You could do a lot worse things. It wouldn't be hard to figure out. And the nature of youth is you haven't experienced death enough to know that some of this stuff could be really dangerous to you. Like, you know, there used to be a guy at the theater, we had some apartments there, and he would jump from this concrete, from this railing of an apartment, it was like a 25 foot drop on just solid concrete. And he would just, you know, just jump in the air and go across this. Well, you'd be splattered all over the ground, you know, if he fell. He never did, but you could. And that, you know, stuff happens like that all the time, so it's not so bad. So my drug days are long gone. It was fun while it lasted, but it's over. You know.

Sarah Nemeth [00:54:49] Did they definitely, like, sell the paraphernalia, like, in all the stores?

George Fitzpatrick [00:54:53] Some of the stores did. There's still a store down. There's Sunshine II. I suspect if you go in there now, you'll be able to buy a hookah or a bong or whatever you want to buy, or a pipe. And one of my friends who had a head shop at - the first one in Cleveland - it was in University Circle. It was about 114th or 115th in Euclid, next to a famous bar called the Adele's. I worked in this movie theater on Euclid Avenue. This was about a mile and a half further toward Cleveland. So it was odd because I always worked at the theater, so I hardly ever went to these other places because I'd worked late at night. So Stan got in a lot of trouble selling that sort of stuff and all. And I just heard that Stan - I had a friend here from Phoenix yesterday, visiting for a while and having her 50th high school reunion was this past weekend. It was strange because I knew her when she was in high school - and Stan got in a lot of trouble for selling things like that and for having an ounce of dope with him or 2 ounces. It was not any vast quantity. And for he got women, and girls, not women. Girls would throw themselves at this guy, throw, you know, what do you want me to do to you? And there could be 20 of them at one time. And so he gets arrested for being with a minor, and the day of his trial, he is not to be found. And a poet friend of mine, d. a. levy, wrote a poem about Stan. It's called "They said you went everywhere." One person said, well, he went to Morocco, and another one Israel, another one Canada or Mexico or California, whatever. So this girl who was visiting yesterday is telling me that actually, she told me about two years ago that she had heard from Stan and he lives in Phoenix. [laughs] I'd never known it. It's been like 45 years or so. I didn't know that. And of course, he's changed, I'm sure, as all people do over the years and everything. But, you know, the whole secret of life for anybody is to do the things that are exciting for you. That's the secret of life. Try to do things- I gave a talk about my artwork a couple of days ago downtown, and basically, that's it. If you like fishing, do your best. If you like doing art, do your best. I mean, that's all. And after you said, I did my best, that's all you can do, and then you don't worry. Who cares what other people say? Because some people say it's great, and some people say it isn't great. Never going to change. Never.

Sarah Nemeth [00:57:48] Life is the way it is. Well, next question. When does Coventry start to change out of that, like, counterculture feeling and image?

George Fitzpatrick [00:58:02] It was probably in the eighties and all, but things happened. People are constantly moving in. And one of the stores that was a great asset to Coventry was Big Fun. And when Steve's store, which is the silly as one can get, you know, it's going to be a loss for Coventry. It's his decision. He did it for a long time and had a lot of fun. And it's, you know, it was time for him to not do this. Well, lo and behold, somebody else opened a restaurant a little bit east of here, and they want him to have part of a store. It's at Harvard and, you know, one of the developments, I can't think what it's called. REI went in that area. And so he's going to be out there for a while. But that's a store, and stores are constantly changing. So the new stores that are exciting, there's a women's store called Blush down here, which really has some nice things. And they- The women who own it, or woman, one or the other, is constantly changing the windows and all. But one difference that I've noticed is when I was at the theater, all the most hip stores were all up by the movie theater. And gradually that has moved from that area down to Mayfield. It's like the reverse now. So it's down there and, you know, good luck to 'em. You know. But things are always in a state of flux and all. And I really do hope that the smaller stores can survive. It's very difficult. I try to tell friends that it's really important to try to buy things locally, because those are the people that actually live in your place, as opposed to Amazon, let's say, where you can buy anything, any hour of the day or night. That's good, but it doesn't really help people like your neighbors. So it concerns me. There's three big stores on Coventry for rent now, and there was American Apparel down here, and then Big Fun, which might have a good chance to rent because it's next door to Tommy's and the bookstore, so that's a pretty good location. And then Chipotle up by the movie theater, that's gone. And those are going to be hard to rent. The rents- I used to have a bookstore on Coventry, and it was right at the corner of Euclid Heights and Coventry, around the bend. And it was a picture frame shop called Kaufmann's, I had a front window in the store, and it was about maybe the size of this porch. Okay? It wasn't exactly a palatial store. And I paid $35 a month rent, utilities included, for that amount of space. And, you know, so I could actually make a couple of dollars from year to year. But it was very tiny and the rents are very high. And you really have to have- You know, you really have to think it through. And, you know, I didn't want to do it with the movie theater because I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and that wasn't it. And now I, of course, love foreign films with a passion. I mostly watch them, mostly because I'm too lazy to go to the Cinemateque a lot of times. Although now the seats are wonderful. They used to have little crappy seats at the Institute of Art, the old one. But now they have really nice seats. It's a beautiful place on Euclid Avenue, but I get tired because I'm older, and if I do my art in the daytime, I'm pretty wiped out with art. So, you know, I don't stay up to three in the morning more than twice a week. Yeah, I used to. Not anymore. Well, you know, when I was, you know, 20, 25 and 30 and 35, that was not so hard. But it does get harder. Yeah, well, life changes, you know? It does for everyone. All you got to do is look at the old people, you know, and, you know, ask them, you know, if they're honest, they'll tell you, well, it's not. You know, they got aches and pains, and it just- So do what you can now. So how long have you been doing this stuff? A while?

Sarah Nemeth [01:02:22] Well, oral histories like this I've been doing for, like, two years. So I got my masters at Cleveland State in History, and then my professor hired me to do this, as a contract.

George Fitzpatrick [01:02:38] Oh, that's great. [crosstalk] Well, I hope you got a really interesting job. You know. You know, it. You know, but it happens, some of each.

Sarah Nemeth [01:02:54] It's prepared me. Communications, communicating with people, listening and-

George Fitzpatrick [01:02:59] And talking with a lot of diverse people, and wind bags and this. And, you know, you just are-

Sarah Nemeth [01:03:03] I could write a book about having these experiences, like birds flying into a house and some guy catching a bird and letting it go and saying, stop the interview, and, like, running out of a house, and it's just. It's really cool. I do have one question.

George Fitzpatrick [01:03:21] Sure.

Sarah Nemeth [01:03:22] Concerning Coventry.

George Fitzpatrick [01:03:23] Okay.

Sarah Nemeth [01:03:24] You know, what happened in the nineties?

George Fitzpatrick [01:03:26] Not really, because, you know, it's really hard for me to say that because, you know, even though we lived here, so I used to eat at Tommy's a lot in the eighties, and that I helped get Tommy started by being saying, yeah, you know, this kid should do this and everything. So it's hard for me to go there when he's there a lot because it doesn't cost me anything to eat. And so we have to go there when he's not around, basically. So I can give him a couple of bucks from time to time. But, you know, if we need manure for the yard, there's Tommy with a load of manure, and he just brought my- I lent him for years and years the old movie theater ladder, and he just bought a new one and gave me the old antique, which is now in my garage and everything. And, you know, I mean, you know, what it is to me is for our friendship more than anything else. That's what matters the most. You know, I don't care if you have a million dollars or nothing. It doesn't matter at all to me at all. Usually, you'll fall in between those two categories for most people. And, you know, you try your best, and, you know, I have a lot of memories of, you know, people that were here and all. And when you get older, it's harder to meet new people. It's just difficult. It's more difficult now, but I go out for coffee every morning at the local Phoenix Coffee down here, and I know a lot of people there, and that's fun to do. And then I come home and work.

Sarah Nemeth [01:04:57] What's your inspiration? Like, how do you get inspired for your art?

George Fitzpatrick [01:05:01] Oh, well, whatever is right for you. And see, if you do something a long time, you don't have to really worry about that very much. Like, to give you one short example, I'm looking in the paper today and there's some guy named Maury Proskin who died. He's 98 years old. Well, Maury Proskin married the neighbor across the street off of West 117th. Luann. Aunt, let's see. Uncle Lyndon and Aunt Ruth's daughter married Maury Proskin. Okay. They had been married 72 years and he was a scientist at NASA. And I remember his mother in law telling my mother and I one time, this is around 1960 or '59, that he was, it's very hush hush. Don't tell anybody. But he's making the rocket fuel to go to the moon. Don't tell anybody now, it's a big secret. [laughs] Only 50 billion people know this, you know, until everybody else knows it. But that's just such a wonderful story. So I'm writing, so this, this, Aunt Ruth gave me, my first art book as a kid, and I'm writing stories about my life, just people that I've known. And not to glorify me in any way because most are pretty derogatory toward me, but just to talk about, you know, the people and what they did. And, you know, her father lived with them in the basement. And when he died, I got Mister Conklin's bed and that was my bed for years across the street. And she gives me this art book. And when the Ohio Turnpike opened, we didn't have a car, she took my mother and I on a trip on the Ohio Turnpike. Isn't that thrilling? But it was thrilling, you know, I was sort of bored after a while. But, you know, it's just the, you know, the relationships of life. And so they listed their kids in the paper, this, this couple and everything. So we're, we're going to be out of town tomorrow for a little while and, you know, I want to get ahold of the kids to see if they have a photograph of her and her husband who worked for the Illuminating Company and climbing poles, fixing things, because I think that's what he did. And I hope they could give me a couple photos because this would just be another of a lot of stories and just stuff that's happened. It's no better or worse than any other life. It isn't, but it's just one person's experience. It'd be called, you know, One Life might be a name for it. So maybe I'll show, I'd like to show me in Cleveland sometime. I could probably do a couple of, or 300 of them, I suppose, over the course of two or three years.

Sarah Nemeth [01:07:53] Well, thank you for sharing.

George Fitzpatrick [01:07:54] Well, you're entirely welcome. That'll be $5.

Sarah Nemeth [01:07:59] [laughs] That's a great way to end. I gotta get out of here!

George Fitzpatrick [01:08:02] Okay. I used to say a quarter, but I should charge more. [crosstalk] That doesn't do a hell of a lot for me.

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