The Eastown is one of the 24 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.
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.”
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 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.
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. In 2014 scrappers cut the steel beams supporting the roof, which caused it and the balcony to collapse to the main level destroying part of the side wall in the process. The theater was demolished by the city of Detroit in November 2015.
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