Renewal and Growth

One of the philosophies that I carry around in my pocket is: Life is movement—either growth, decay, or renewal—and renewal always precedes growth.

The Detroit Film Theatre and Michigan Theater are currently applying this philosophy in different ways as they face the endless challenges of time and competition.

The DFT has been closed this summer while its mechanical systems are being updated. According to the DIA Quarterly publication for June/July/August 2014:

“The 1927 air handling system is being modernized and the lighting rewired in the theater, lobby, and Crystal Gallery, which also includes restoring the chandeliers to their former splendor.”

The DFT website adds:

“When the DFT reopens on October 10, audiences will experience a more comfortable, quiet and energy-efficient environment to enjoy the many programs hosted in this historic venue.”

That same issue of DIA Quarterly also brings very welcome news for DFT visitors who have worked their way by car and by foot through a confusing and at times dangerous parking lot entrance and exit on John R.

“The current entrance and exit onto John R will become an entrance only, with two lanes available to pay at automated kiosks that accept cash and credit cards. (There will still be someone in the booth to assist visitors.) The parking lot exit will open onto Brush.”

The article also mentions that a “new pedestrian plaza will guide visitors to a crosswalk with a light.”

The DFT is using this closure as an opportunity to exhibit film in a new setting and in new areas. The DFT will be screening two famous films outdoors in three different Metroparks in August.

Those screenings in the Kensington, Stony Creek, and Willow Metroparks will include a 50th anniversary showing of A Hard Day’s Night and a 60th anniversary presentation of the original Japanese version of Godzilla.

Michigan Theater Changes

The Barton Theatre Pipe Organ at the Michigan Theater has an honored history as one of the unique features of the theater. It was a major factor in saving the Michigan after its long run as a commercial theater ended in the 1970s.

But time and usage have taken their toll, and now it’s ready for an overhaul. According to the Michigan Theater website:

“The Barton pipe organ will be undergoing the first phase of a complete renovation during the summer. The console is being rebuilt and a new solid-state relay installed. It will be heard again in September. Michigan Theater organists will continue to play the Hammond organ in the Screening Room until then.”

The console is the part of the organ that you see in the theater. It’s where the organist manipulates all of the keys, stops, and pedals to create the magical sounds that emanate from the pipes and other musical devices that are behind the side walls of the theater near the stage and above the audience. The relay helps connect the console to the music-producing part of the organ.

The Ann Arbor-based Renaissance Pipe Organ Company is handling the renovation. A June 24, 2014 article by Jenn McKee in the Ann Arbor section of gave other details about plans for the renovation of the organ:

“In the long run, following targeted fundraising, the 13 sets of pipes (7 sets on one side of the theater, 6 on the other, with each set consisting of at least 61 individual pipes) housed on the theater’s second floor will be replaced or refurbished.”

The Michigan also took on another ambitious project this summer when it purchased the State Theatre that is a short walk from the Michigan. For years, the Michigan has contracted with the State to provide programming, but now the Michigan will be in complete control.

Membership Manager Amber Duncan announced the purchase in a June 16, 2014 e-mail to members:

“At 3 pm today, the Michigan Theater Foundation signed a purchase agreement to gain ownership of the State Theatre, ensuring that it will continue to serve as a home for film screenings. We plan to make accessibility, comfort, and presentation quality improvements at the historic facility over the next few years.”

In a July 9 e-mail to members, Executive Director Russ Collins wrote:

“Our vision for the State Theatre is to restore it to its original Art Deco design, as well as to add some modern, much-needed improvements. These include installing an elevator to make the theater accessible and introducing more comfortable seats.”

It will be intriguing to see how the Michigan puts its stamp on the State. It is a unique movie theater experience, with its retro concession lounge on the second floor, and the bright red vinyl seats in the two theaters.

Since the two auditoriums are in the balcony of the original theater, watching movies at the State has an intimacy that almost makes you feel like you’re watching a very big screen television in a movie theater.

It’s also nice to know that the State Theatre marquee will continue to combine with the Michigan Theater marquee to create one of most attractive night-time sights in Ann Arbor.

Over at the Redford, it’s been one year since they completed a major renovation project (Welcome Back, Redford). But further improvements continue, as evidenced by the loud cheers at recent movies for announcements about improvements to the ladies’ restroom.

Detroit Movie Palaces Home Page

Copyright 2014 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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