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.
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 Ralston, Reed 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 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.
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.
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.”
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18 thoughts on “The Michigan Theatre”
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.
Hi Irene Queen,
I am writing my bachelor thesis on New York in the 70s and I would like to compare it to Detroit in present times.
Can I use the pictures you were using for this article?
The images aren’t Irene Queen’s.
How ownes the rights?
Look around the site. You’ll figure it out.
It’d be cool if they’d restore the paint
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?
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.
Amazing pictures! Our readers of Britain’s OLD THEATRES magazine will be post interested http://www.oldtheatres.co.uk
Fascinating! I can’t imagine what it would take to safely turn an old theatre like this into a garage.
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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.
Love your blog and each day is a treat. When l was young l lived in Poughkeepsie NY and the city had 5 movie theaters now only the Bardavon which l believe only does special events now. There was a theater called the Stratford which show. B movies and was pulled down in the late 50s or early 60s,it was made into a parking garage but the ceiling and some sides left on the theater.l haven’t lived in Poughkeepsie for 50 years so do not know if it still excise.Again thanks for your time and keep up the good work.I your book out yet.
Richard – I grew up near Poughkeepsie, and saw quite a few shows at the Bardavon. Did you ever go to the Dutchess Theatre? It’s now a music venue called the Chance.
Thank you so much for this. It’s sad to see old beautiful architecture die. Well, same thing happens to us humans, eh?. Still to bad that nothing lasts forever……
My girlfriend and I attended a concert in either 1974 or 1975 at the then called Michigan Palace.At the time there was a man in the lobby before the concert who was taking pictures of couples for a small fee.At the same time there was a camera man from The Detroit Free Press doing an article about the Michigan Palace.The man from The Free Press asked if he could take a picture of the other man taking a picture of us.It subsequently was posted on the back page of the then called The Detroit Free Press……I’m curious if I could possibly find that particular Free Press.Any help would be highly appreciated.
Thank you,Mr.Dale Snowden
Dale – I’d try looking here: Detroit Free Press Archives
Kinda sad i remember the first time i saw a picture of the place and fell in love with it. To be used as a parking garage well on the other hand better than being torn down but what a beautiful building