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Eastown Theatre

March 25, 2013
View of the auditorium from the balcony.

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Eastown Theatre opened on October 1, 1931 in Detroit, Michigan. It was built by the architectural firm of V.J. Waiver and Company for the Wisper and Westman Theatre chain. Designed in a Baroque architectural style, the 2,500 seat theater was built for motion pictures and did not have live performances until much later. Most movie palace openings were a grand event, and the Eastown was no exception. Newspaper ads proclaimed the opening to be, “the most glorious event in the history of east Detroit.” The opening film was Clark Gable’s first starring role “Sporting Blood.”

View of the auditorium from the stage.

View of the auditorium from the stage.

The theater closed in 1967 and after some renovation reopened as a music venue on May 29, 1969. During this time many famous bands played at the Eastown, including Elton John, the Doors, Fleetwood Mac, Chicago, the Grateful Dead, Rush, Jefferson Airplane, the Who and more. Alice Cooper played at the theater often, and some say that he found his now iconic top hat in a dumpster behind the theater before a performance. The theater was also the site of quite a bit of illegal activity. Drug dealers openly sold drugs during shows, and after two deaths, drug arrests and overcrowding violations the mayor of Detroit revoked the city business license. The Eastown closed on December 11, 1971.

The theater's lobby.

The theater’s lobby.

The theater reopened once again in late 1975 as a music venue called the Showcase Theatre. James Brown played 14 shows in six days during this time. This was short lived due to rising crime in the area. Patrons’ cars were often vandalized or broken into and the Showcase closed after 18 months. It became an adult film theater in 1980, lasting until 1984. Eastown’s next iteration came when it was taken over by the Detroit Center for the Performing Arts in 1984. DCPA used the theater to put on plays and acting workshops. With the condition of the theater deteriorating, DCPA started to raise money to make the necessary renovations but was unable to and closed the theater.

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View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

After a stint hosting raves, the Eastown was taken over by Deeper Life Ministries.  The church used the apartments attached to the building for housing for its congregation with the intent of converting the auditorium into a place of worship. They were unable to and the theater was put up for sale in 2004. On August 9, 2010 a fire broke out in the apartment section of the building. The fire destroyed half of the complex. Other than some smoke damage, the theater was untouched. The city condemned the building and placed demolition notices on the front door the following day.

View from the main level of the auditorium.

View from the main level of the auditorium.

The proscenium arch has become water damaged in the years since the theater closed.

The proscenium arch has become water damaged in the years since the theater closed.

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The ceiling in the foyer has also begun to collapse.

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Much of the plaster work on the balcony has crumbled and broken off the wall.

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“The Eastown was the best audience in the world. And I’m not saying that just because you’re writing it down. Any other city, people went home from work to put on their Levis and black leather jackets for a concert. In Detroit they came from work like that. The Eastown — those were pure rock ’n’ roll times.” - Alice Cooper, The Detroit Free Press

“The Eastown was the best audience in the world. And I’m not saying that just because you’re writing it down. Any other city, people went home from work to put on their Levis and black leather jackets for a concert. In Detroit they came from work like that. The Eastown — those were pure rock ’n’ roll times.” – Alice Cooper, The Detroit Free Press

© Matthew Lambros and After the Final Curtain, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Lambros and After the Final Curtain with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2013 9:53 am

    Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.

  2. March 25, 2013 2:17 pm

    Another jewel thrown in the mud…

  3. May 20, 2013 2:09 pm

    I live near-ish this theater, and every time I see it, it seems like there’s less of it.

    Great blog, by the way.

    • May 20, 2013 2:12 pm

      Thanks Claire. I was really surprised when they didn’t demolish the theater after the fire.

  4. May 20, 2013 2:11 pm

    I live near this place, and every time I pass it, it seems like there is less of it.

  5. dan permalink
    February 27, 2014 12:43 am

    Whatever happened to the musicians who made their fame and fortune at the Eastown since its fall? Maybe the new Mayor will put it back together.

    • March 5, 2014 4:33 pm

      Unfortunately, I don’t think the area of Detroit that the Eastown is in could support a theater of its size. The best thing the city could do is seal it up and prevent it from deteriorating any more, so that it could be renovated in the future.

  6. Jim permalink
    August 6, 2014 4:29 pm

    Such a shame it breaks my heart to look at these pictures of a once glorious theatre that was host to so many great rock bands of the 60’s & 70’s. If I had the money I would restore every inch of this palace.

    • August 6, 2014 4:39 pm

      Unfortunately there is not much left to restore. Scrappers cut the steel beams in the ceiling and the whole thing came crashing down.

      • August 11, 2014 3:07 pm

        Man I was just listening to Ted Nugent & The Amboy Dukes – Survival of the Fittest that was recorded there and wanted to know more about it and here I find your post Matt from just a few days ago such a shame a place like this with so much history is gone now.

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