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The Michigan Theatre

April 30, 2013
The theater's proscenium arch.

The theater’s proscenium arch.

Built on the site of Henry Ford’s first garage, the Michigan Theatre opened on August 23, 1926 in Detroit, Michigan. The 4,038 seat theater was designed by Chicago-based theater architecture firm Rapp & Rapp (also known for the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn) for the Balaban and Katz Theatre Corporation.

View of the proscenium arch and part of the ceiling from the back of the auditorium.

View of the proscenium arch and part of the ceiling from the back of the auditorium.

As with many other theaters at the time, the Michigan opened as a silent film theater and was later converted to show “talkies.”  The first motion picture shown with sound was “Sawdust Paradise,” starring Esther RalstonReed Howes and Hobart Bosworth. In addition to showing films, the theater was also used as a live performance venue. Some of the greatest performers of the day played there, including Bob Hope, the Marx Brothers, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. The live performances were discontinued in the late 1930s when the Michigan began showing only movies.\

The lobby ceiling is one of the few things that survived the transformation into a parking garage.

The lobby ceiling is one of the few things that survived the transformation into a garage.

The Michigan closed in 1967 due to declining ticket sales. It was reopened a few months later by Nicholas George, who owned and operated 11 theaters in the Detroit area. George made renovations to the theater, but it ended up closing again after just three years. Live performances returned in 1973 when the theater was converted into a 1,500 seat supper club and renamed the Michigan Palace. The club was not successful and closed a few months after opening.

Most of the balcony was removed to make room for the top level of the parking garage.

Most of the balcony was removed to make room for the top level of the parking garage.

It later became a concert venue and hosted shows from many famous bands, including Aerosmith, Rush, Bob Seger, David Bowie and Blue Oyster Cult.  Its years as a concert venue took a toll on the theater and much of the interior decor was damaged. The theater closed for the last time in 1976 due to a dispute between the building’s owners and the concert venue management over the damage to the theater.

The landing inside one of the surviving stairwells.

The landing inside one of the surviving stairwells.

Plans to demolish the theater were halted when demolition studies revealed that if the theater was demolished the structural integrity of an attached office building would be compromised. The inside of the auditorium was then partially gutted and a three-storey parking garage was built inside. The only remaining parts of the original theater include the ceiling, proscenium arch, part of the upper balcony, the projector room, the lobby ceiling and the ticket booth. The Michigan is still in use as a garage, and has been featured in a number of movies set in Detroit, including “8 Mile” and “Alex Cross.”

Another view of the lobby ceiling.

Another view of the lobby ceiling.

A look at the remains of the auditorium from the back of what used to be the balcony.

A look at the remains of the auditorium from the back of what used to be the balcony.

Michigan_Theatre_09

 

© 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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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Irene Queen permalink
    April 30, 2013 10:46 am

    I cry from the waste of such magnificent architecture. But I suppose, at least, folk who park their cars can have their souls fed before going about their business for the day.

  2. April 30, 2013 1:48 pm

    It’d be cool if they’d restore the paint

  3. Greg Steinmayer permalink
    May 2, 2013 9:37 pm

    I know its possible to access the main stair (and the remains of the men’s restroom) from one level of the garage, but I have never had the guts to see if its possible to access the rear upper balcony or projector room. Did you try?

  4. Michael Jenkins permalink
    May 3, 2013 7:22 pm

    There are numerous pictures of the Michigan at http://www.historicdetroit.org. This has really depressed me, seeing the destruction of such a beautiful building, from what it was to what it is today. Totally unacceptable, I mean what were they thinking? Such a waste.

  5. May 7, 2013 12:36 pm

    Amazing pictures! Our readers of Britain’s OLD THEATRES magazine will be post interested http://www.oldtheatres.co.uk

  6. May 9, 2013 6:08 pm

    Fascinating! I can’t imagine what it would take to safely turn an old theatre like this into a garage.

  7. March 28, 2014 11:58 pm

    I lived in Detroit for some time. I am glad to see that there is a spot for its history in our hearts. The city has so many great and interesting works of art in the form of architecture laying around the decaying city. If only history was preserved fully to know any continue to appreciate its grandeur. Thank you for posting this.

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