The Redford Theatre threw open its doors on Saturday, August 1, 2009 for an all-day Open House that gave visitors the special chance to explore the theater in detail.
Patrons who took advantage of the tours of the backstage, music chamber, and projection booth came away with a much better understanding and appreciation of the magic of the Redford—and the years of loving care and effort that produced that magic.
The air was filled with music from the Barton theater organ and the piano in the concession lobby. Entertainers like a Charlie Chaplin imitator mingled among the many who took advantage of a beautiful summer day to visit the 81-year-old theater.
In these tough times, with property ownership a key issue in the transformation of the economic landscape, it is very encouraging to see the successful restoration and maintenance of the Redford as a valuable asset of both northwest Detroit and the metropolitan area. The Open House reminded me of similar events that I enjoyed at the Detroit Film Theatre and the Michigan Theater.
The Open House was in part a fundraising effort to pay for new carpeting for the lobby.
This new carpeting will complete many years of restoration that has included new seats and murals in the main theater, new plaster and painted wood in the outer lobby, and the removal of features (like dropped ceilings) that suited the tastes of patrons during the last years of the Redford as a for-profit theater in the 1970s.
Helping sponsor this event were local businesses, who set up tables covered with their goods, including movie-related items like glossy photos, videos, and T-shirts with the Three Stooges and other movie figures stamped on them. Visitors could take a chance on door prizes that included movie-and-dinner packages with the Redford and area restaurants, with 100 percent of the proceeds from the door prize ticket sale going towards the carpet renovation.
The display tables helped create a relaxed, spontaneous atmosphere where people could share their thoughts and feelings about the Redford, along with the memories and associations that the Redford brings out in them. It was a day-long version of your typically fun Redford movie intermission, one of the most unique features of the theater.
Voices echoed throughout the spacious auditorium:
“How high does this go?” asked a child as he surveyed the vastness of the theater.
“This place is really cool!”
“That’s where the projection booth is,” said a man pointing up towards the balcony from the front of the stage.
“Let’s wander down here,” said a woman as her group moved towards the front of the auditorium, after they had explored the lobbies.
The tours of different parts of the theater brought out more observations, along with questions about the theater. Visitors learned that the backstage includes four stories with seven dressing rooms, along with space underneath the stage for the boiler and other items. A theater guide demonstrated the prop lifts that control the curtains and the set designs of the annual Christmas show and other live events.
Below, visitors stand on the stage near the movie speaker that hides behind the screen during film showings.
One theater buff asked about the availability of carbon arc lamps for the theater’s film projectors. The theater guide smiled and said that that was a concern, but the lamps are still available. The theater recently acquired an old film projector that is on display in the outer lobby and which is used for parts for the operating projectors.
Patrons also heard about how the current operations of the theater took shape in the mid-1970s, thanks to interest in the theater organ by the Motor City Theatre Organ Society.
After the MCTOS got involved with the theater, it experimented with silent films and old Columbia Pictures movies, before striking gold with a series of movie musicals that was launched with a soldout performance of The Sound of Music. That evolved into the current mixture of comedies, dramas, and musicals.
One woman on the tour probably echoed many peoples’ thoughts when she said how impressed she was that almost all of the renovation work was handled by Redford Theatre volunteers. According to the tour guides, the main outside help came from a state of Michigan grant that helped pay for new auditorium seats about six years ago, and skilled work with plaster in the outer lobby that was donated.
“It’s phenomenal!” exclaimed the visitor.
And it all continues next weekend (Aug. 7-9) with one of the very best old movies to see on a big screen—the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia.
Copyright © 2009 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.