In the fascinating new book Detroit’s Downtown Movie Palaces (2006, Arcadia Publishing), authors Michael Hauser and Marianne Weldon write:
“When reviewing the history of how downtown Detroit’s movie palaces evolved, one word certainly comes to mind, and that is visionary.”
This book, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of commercial movie theaters in Detroit, taught me much about the rise and fall and (in some cases) rebirth of the great theaters of downtown Detroit. As I read it, I wondered how the word “visionary” might apply to the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater, and Redford Theatre.
With all three theaters, ambition and imagination was needed at two crucial times—when the theaters first opened, and when a new mission was formed in the 1970s:
In addition to their film programs, all three theaters present live events, which were the key to the survival of the still-active theaters (like the Fox on Woodward) that are mentioned in Detroit’s Downtown Movie Palaces.
“The buildings themselves have come full circle from live entertainment to exclusively films and now back to live performances,” write Hauser (marketing manager for the Detroit Opera House) and Weldon (curator of collections for the Detroit Historical Society).
Valuable Historical Detail
Detroit’s Downtown Movie Palaces has given me a deeper understanding of many of the theaters that I write about in the Looking Back feature of this web site:
On Christmas Day 1956, several demolished or currently unused theaters in downtown Detroit hosted exclusive presentations of major movies: Madison (The Ten Commandments), United Artists (Around the World in 80 Days), Adams (The Teahouse of the August Moon) and Michigan (Hollywood or Bust).
Detroit’s Downtown Movie Palaces will help you further appreciate the surviving theaters of downtown Detroit, as well as the dedication, vision and commitment of the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater and Redford Theatre.
Note: Information for this essay also came from Stuart Galbraith IV’s valuable book, Motor City Marquees: A Comprehensive, Illustrated Reference to Motion Pictures in the Detroit Area, 1906-1992 (1994, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers).
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.