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Looking Back

January 1928

Step back in time to see what area movie theaters were presenting in January 1928, the month that the Michigan Theater and the Redford Theatre opened. Film titles are linked to the Internet Movie Database.

For more information about these theaters, see Cinema Treasures or Water Winter Wonderland.


Grand Openings

When 1928 began, movie theaters in the Detroit and Ann Arbor area were filled with what we now call silent movies. To the filmgoers of that time, the normal way to watch movies was with intertitles and live musical accompaniment.

In Detroit, popular movies included Underworld (shown at the Detroit Film Theatre on Oct. 25, 2008), which was playing at the Adams. Also on Detroit screens were London After Midnight (Lon Chaney); Man, Woman and Sin (John Gilbert); and The Love Mart (Billie Dove).

In Ann Arbor, the movie entertainment included Johnny Get Your Hair Cut (Jackie Coogan) at the Rae; The Gay Retreat (Ted McNamara and Sammy Cohen) at the Wuerth; and Buck Jones in The Branded Sombrero at the Orpheum. Also showing was Now We're in the Air (Wallace Beery and Raymond Hatton) at the Arcade. The Majestic was screening French Dressing, with H.B. Warner, Clive Brook, Lois Wilson, and Lilyan Tashman.

But change was in the air, in the form of The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson. This talking picture opened in December 1927 at the Madison in Detroit, "where last week it was necessary to ask for a detail of police to assist the house management in maintaining order in the lines of would-be ticket purchasers," wrote Ella H. McCormick in the "Speaking of the Cinemas" column in the January 1, 1928 edition of The Detroit Free Press.

By the end of January 1928, two more theaters would add to the wide variety of moving picture houses in the Detroit region. One theater brought the downtown Detroit movie palace experience to Ann Arbor, while the other helped expand, into the suburbs, the empire of a downtown Detroit movie theater chain.

And both were launched with the same mission that helps them continue to thrive in the 21st century—a sincere desire to serve their community.

Michigan Theater

"NEW MICHIGAN THEATER TO OPEN TONIGHT," read the large headline in the January 5, 1928 edition of The Ann Arbor Daily News. The big bold lettering of that headline topped a full page of articles about the new movie palace that was opening in downtown Ann Arbor that day. Other headlines on that page included:

"Decorations Rival Those Of Largest Houses In Nation: Completion of New Michigan Provides City with One of the Most Gorgeous and Spacious Theatres in the State"

"Best Of Acts Are Promised: Manager Says Only High Class Presentations Will Be Offered"

The lead editorial in that day's Daily News was titled "The New Michigan," and stated, "Those who are regular patrons of theaters will readily appreciate this magnificent new structure; but even those who seldom visit such a place ought to visit the new Michigan and become acquainted with it. Civic pride is bound to receive impetus as a result."

The Michigan would join the Butterfield chain of theaters, which, the Daily News noted in its January 5 editorial, is "an organization which has been taking the lead, during the past decade, in giving the medium-sized cities of the state better amusement places and better amusement."

Managing the Michigan was Gerald Hoag, who since 1919 had been managing the Majestic, one of four other Butterfield theaters in the city (along with the Arcade, Wuerth, and Orpheum). Detroit-based architect Maurice Finkel (who had worked with noted architect Albert Kahn) used Romanesque elements to help the Michigan blend in with the classic designs of many of the buildings of the University of Michigan.

The Michigan was the culmination of a long-time dream of Greek-born theater building owner Angelo Poulos, who also owned the Allenel Hotel and the Ann Arbor Café. The theater building also included nine stores, second floor offices, and bowling alleys in the basement.

Opening Night included the movie comedy A Hero for a Night, starring Glenn Tryon, along with newsreels and other screen treats. Live entertainment was provided by Ida Mae Chadwick and her dancing "Dizzy Blondes"; the Michigan Orchestra conducted by Karl Wiederhold; Floyd Hofmann at the Grande Organ; and a monkey that ran through the Michigan crowd (perhaps to get a better look at a monkey appearing in A Hero for a Night).

"I was thrilled and proud of the fact that this is my theater and yours," wrote the "Stage and Screen" columnist H. H. O. of The Ann Arbor Daily News on January 6, 1928. "There was an indefinable sentiment attached to the opening that set it apart from the usual run of first nights. You could feel it in the atmosphere—a sense of reverence and awe and appreciation."

The Michigan then settled in as another great place to see a picture show in downtown Ann Arbor. Also appearing on the Michigan screen this month were The Gay Defender (Richard Dix); The Spotlight (Esther Ralston); Thanks for the Buggy Ride (Laura La Plante); Serenade (Adolphe Menjou); The Gorilla (Charlie Murray and Fred Kelsey); A Man's Past (Conrad Veidt); and Silk Legs (Madge Bellamy).

For more about the opening of the Michigan, visit the theater web site.

Redford Theatre

"Redford to Wear Gala Dress for Theater Opening," read the headline of an article in The Detroit Free Press on January 15, 1928. The article noted that "Greater Redford Week" would "signalize that suburb's confidence in a prosperous 1928" and "center around the opening of the new Kunsky-Redford theater, on Lahser road near Grand River avenue."

Two weeks earlier, on January 1, the Free Press reported that the installation of the organ in the new Kunsky-Redford theater could now be completed, with the delivery of a "small reed, scarcely larger than a crayon pencil."

"The reed is to reproduce exactly the sacred musical tones of Japan, making it possible to put on an organ concert entirely in harmony with the atmospheric decorations of the auditorium which represents an open-air Japanese garden," read the article in the "Screen" section of the Free Press.

Anticipation for the Redford's opening continued to grow, in a busy period for movie theater growth in the Detroit area. The United Artists Theatre at Bagley and Clifford was scheduled to open on February 3, with Gloria Swanson in Sadie Thompson. An artist's sketch in the January 15 Free Press previewed the new Kunsky-Royal Oak theater, also nearing completion.

The big day finally came on January 27. "Redford last night joined those Detroit suburbs which proudly boast of having new 'super-deluxe' motion picture palaces," reported Ella H. McCormick of the Free Press in her January 28 "The Reel Players" column.

McCormick also observed, "The new theater is probably one of the most unique of Detroit's many beautiful movie houses. It is classified as an 'atmospheric' theater. The architects and decorators have made the auditorium appear like a Japanese garden, with clouds over head, the walls picturesque with odd shaped roofs and spires of Japanese landscape, trees, etc."

The evening began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony involving two youngsters who had won an essay-writing contest on "Why I Like To Live in Redford." (Shirley Hathaway of the Keeler school and Clarence Schmidt of the Houghton school). Roy Burgess of the Redford Exchange club told the Opening Night crowd "that the opening of the new theater, with the activity it will create, will mark the beginning of a new era of prosperity and progress for Redford."

The Kunsky-Redford was the second of three suburban Kunsky theaters (along with the existing Birmingham and the soon-to-be-opened Royal Oak). "Faith in the bright prospects of growth in suburban Detroit is expressed by the Kunsky officials in explaining their residential neighborhood theater expansion program," wrote McCormick in the Free Press.

After the ceremonies, about 2,000 visitors relaxed and enjoyed guest organist Don Miller (from the Kunsky Capitol theater) on the new Barton organ. The Redford's opening night film was The Gay Defender, a romantic drama with Richard Dix and Thelma Todd.

So began a long history of moviegoing entertainment by the Redford. The glowing lights of the Redford marquee later publicized these other movies in January 1928 : Becky (Sally O'Neill); She's a Sheik (Bebe Daniels); and The Way of All Flesh, which helped Emil Jannings win the first Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

For more information about the opening of the Redford, visit the theater web site.


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This web site is not affiliated with the Detroit Film Theatre, the Michigan Theater, or the Redford Theatre.

Web site copyright © 2014 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

Launched November 25, 2005.

Last updated July 21, 2014.

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