The Michigan Loses a Friend

The Ann Arbor News published its last edition today (July 23, 2009), and through the years, it has been a good friend to the Michigan Theater. It has provided advertising space, along with free publicity in its entertainment listings. Its writers have produced many enjoyable descriptions of the theater’s activities. And it has shown its strongest commitment to the Michigan through the sponsorship of its programming.

The Looking Back feature of this web site has benefited greatly from the microfilm records of the News at the University of Michigan graduate library and at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor Public Library. In 25 or 50 or 75 years, will future researchers have access to information about current programming at the Michigan and other Ann Arbor area movie theaters?

The demise of the News after 174 years saddens me, but it doesn’t surprise me, because of the general trend towards online communications. I started out in the newspaper business, but later moved into technical writing, where I’ve seen my work shift from paper products to online delivery. This web site is proof of my personal faith in the effectiveness of web sites. And the Michigan Theater’s web site ( has evolved into a classy, entertaining package of information.

But certain thoughts still nag me about the closing of the News. How could a relatively prosperous community like Ann Arbor not support a local newspaper? How could an area that values historical preservation and continuity not hold onto its daily record of events?

The steady shrinkage of the newspaper business reminds me of the slow decline of the old neighborhood movie theater in the 1960s and 1970s. It just gradually happened, theater by theater, until people who cared deeply about movie houses like the Michigan and Redford Theatre decided that we couldn’t completely lose our past.

Before and after many visits to the Michigan, I read through the News at two restaurants that sadly have also closed—Thano’s Lamplighter and Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina. I don’t live in the Ann Arbor area, and reading the News was part of what made visiting Ann Arbor unique, and helped add to my enjoyment of visiting the Michigan. Many nights as I drove home from the Michigan, I’d notice the classic Albert Kahn-designed architecture of the News building at Huron and Division.

Looking Back

As I say farewell to the News, and wish good luck to its former employees and the new venture of its parent company (, here are some excerpts from the News about the Michigan:

“The Michigan takes rank as one of the most beautiful and complete theaters in the state,” read an unsigned article in The Ann Arbor Daily News on January 5, 1928, the day the Michigan opened. “All of the most modern theatrical accessories have been incorporated in this building, which has among other features, the finest projection room of any theater in the United States.”

“Noise, fun, and general pow wow, which will include a preview of the latest Alfred Lunt-L. Fontanne picture, ‘The Guardsman,’ will be mingled in generous quantities in a New Year’s Eve special show tonight at the Michigan,” wrote Allison Ind in the “Stage and Screen” column of The Ann Arbor Daily News on December 31, 1931. “Starting at 11 o’clock, the show will continue through into next year, with something more than whispers scheduled for midnight.”

“The Michigan has booked ‘Carnival Boat’ as the special feature for the Children’s Morning show at 10 o’clock Saturday,” wrote Ind on Friday, July 8, 1932. “In addition there will be a Betty Boop cartoon, a sport reel, a comedy and newsreel.”

“GRAND OPENING Of The Completely Remodeled MICHIGAN Tonight at 7 o’clock,” read an ad in The Ann Arbor News on September 26, 1956. “DOORS OPEN AT 6:30. Everything Is All New Except The Name!” In the ad, theater manager Jerry Hoag says, “From the moment you approach the Michigan, to the opening of the front doors, you step into a new era of the entertainment world. Everything that we could think of that would add to the further comfort and enjoyment of our friends, has been included in this extensive glamorizing job.”

“TEEN IDOL HERE,” read a photo caption in the August 17, 1957 edition of The Ann Arbor News. “Sal Mineo turned up at the Michigan Theater in this car last night to represent the movie, ‘The Young Don’t Cry,’ in which he stars. He got through the youthful crowd to make a few remarks.”

“It’s the season of the Second Annual World’s Worst Film Festival, opening Friday and continuing through next Sunday at the Michigan Theatre,” wrote News Arts Editor Rich Quackenbush on September 20, 1981. “And the theater will be full of the sounds of moans, groans and laughter as audiences sink their senses into some of the worst work ever committed to film.”

“The Ann Arbor Film Festival has changed little over the years,” wrote Quackenbush on March 7, 1982 about the 20th Ann Arbor Film Festival. “Styles of film change; the festival has moved from a small University of Michigan auditorium to the Michigan Theatre; and the prize pot has increased over the past two decades. But the festival’s basic rules and screening practices haven’t changed much.”

“Recently, for four days, more than 20 members of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and director Gillian Anderson holed up in the Michigan Theater to record a musical soundtrack for the forthcoming DVD version of Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s 1929 silent film, ‘Pandora’s Box,’ ” reported News Art Writer Jenn McKee on June 4, 2006.

“Searchlights streak the sky near the Michigan Theater as limousines drop off people who were attending an official Oscar Night America party sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,” read a photo caption in the February 26, 2007 edition of the News. The caption noted that “The event raised money for the Ilitch Charities for Children.”

“The Michigan Theater salutes the Ann Arbor News for 174 years of service,” read an ad in the July 23, 2009 edition of The Ann Arbor News. The ad showed the Michigan’s marquee, which read, “THANK YOU ANN ARBOR NEWS FOR YOUR SUPPORT.”

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Copyright © 2009 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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    3 Responses to The Michigan Loses a Friend

    1. Donald Sosin says:

      Thanks for this news, sad though it is. I wrote music criticism for the Ann Arbor News off and on during my student days in Ann Arbor, and remember some of its reporters, even the type faces, and format quite well. It is a distressing sign of the times to see these stalwart information sources disappear after so many years….

      All best wishes to everyone in the Ann Arbor community.


    2. Laura Gabriel says:

      Thank you for writing this Bob. You captured many of my thoughts. Yesterday was a very sad day indeed. The Ann Arbor News is less than a block away from our office and we share a parking garage with many of the workers from the Ann Arbor News. Everything seems so different in our neighborhood today. We will deeply miss the Ann Arbor News and all their employees.

      Oh … in case you didn’t know, Zanzibar closed their doors this week as well. I loved that restaurant and it is sad to see them gone too.

    3. Administrator says:

      Thanks for these comments. There is a lot of history woven into the things around us, from the local newspaper to historic theaters like the Michigan, from the shouts and cheers at Michigan Stadium to the ripples of the Huron River.

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