If you are interested in understanding the historical background of the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater, and Redford Theatre, the following books are a good place to start:
The Best Remaining Seats: The Golden Age of the Movie Palace (1961), by Ben Hall
This book helped propel the movement in the 1960s and 1970s to save old movie theaters. Hall uses the Roxy Theater in New York City to frame a story of the rise and fall of grand movie palaces in the United States.
The Best Remaining Seats shows what drove the construction of large movie theaters in the 1910s and 1920s. It also includes detailed information about the stage and musical programs of these theaters, including the organs that were used to accompany silent films.
The introduction of the 1988 edition of the book by Brother Andrew Corsini describes the influence of the book. In 1969, Hall founded the Theatre Historical Society of America, which visited the Redford Theatre in March 2014. Corsini was a founding member of that society.
American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy (1991), by David Naylor
This book builds on The Best Remaining Seats to describe historical movie theaters after the restoration work that was performed on many of them in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It includes many color photographs, along with a historical timeline that shows when many famous theaters were built.
American Picture Palaces is dedicated to Brother Andrew Corsini, who wrote the introduction to the 1988 edition of The Best Remaining Seats.
Motor City Marquees: A Comprehensive, Illustrated Reference to Motion Picture Theaters in the Detroit Area, 1906-1992 (1994), by Stuart Galbraith IV
This book is a listing of Detroit and Ann Arbor movie theaters that were built through the early 1990s. Its encyclopedic organization helps you browse through alphabetic listings of indoor and drive-in theaters.
The book is a good snapshot of area mainstream theaters at the moment when large lobby theaters like the Star theater chain were replacing mall-based theaters and standalone theaters like the Quo Vadis. The book also describes the decline of the drive-in theater, which accelerated during the 1980s.
Stuart Galbraith also is a well-known historian of Japanese films.
Detroit’s Downtown Movie Palaces (2006), by Michael Hauser and Marianne Weldon
This book focuses on the movie theaters that were built in and near Grand Circus Park. It describes how some of these theaters survived (Fox, Fillmore Detroit, Detroit Opera House) and how some closed (Madison, Michigan, Adams).
Vision is a major theme in this book, and is certainly a guiding principle for the development work that continues in Detroit today.
The authors had a strong background of information when they wrote this book. Michael Hauser was the marketing manager for the Detroit Opera House and Marianne Weldon was curator of collections for the Detroit Historical Society.
This book was published by the Arcadia publishing company, and is a worthy addition to that company’s Images of America collection of well-illustrated local history books.
VideoHound’s World Cinema: The Adventurer’s Guide to Movie Watching (1999), by Elliot Wilhelm
This book by Detroit Film Theatre founder Elliot Wilhelm is a general overview of foreign language films as well as English language movies that were made outside the United States. It is filled with the kinds of insightful, humorous comments that Elliot has made from the stage of the DFT auditorium at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The book also acts as an informal history of the first 25 years of the DFT, which started in January 1974. Elliot talks about how audiences experienced many of the films that were shown at the DFT during that time.
The Michigan Theater: Ann Arbor’s Home for Fine Film and the Performing Arts Since 1928 (1913), by Henry B. Aldridge with Russell B. Collins
This book chronicles the history of the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor from its opening in January 1928. In addition to the general history of the Michigan, the book is also a good source of information about:
- Movie theaters in downtown Ann Arbor
- The effort needed to save and restore historic theaters
- The effort needed to create an alternative film program
The Michigan Theater was written by Henry Aldridge, an organist at the Michigan Theater who helped save the Michigan in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Russ Collins, who has been the Executive Director/CEO of the Michigan since the early 1980s. Henry also wrote an introduction to Motor City Marquees.
Other Information Sources
To see how the great movie theaters of Detroit fit in with general architectural trends, start with:
- The Buildings of Detroit: A History, by W. Hawkins Ferry. This book was first published in 1968 and has gone through later revisions.
- AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture, by Eric J. Hill and John Gallagher. This book was first published in 1971 and has gone through later revisions.
When I’m looking for detailed information about particular theaters, I usually refer to Motor City Marquees and two great websites. In addition to factual information, these websites also include many valuable personal comments on individual theaters.
- Cinema Treasures, which has become the best resource for information about old movie theaters in the United States.
- WaterWinterWonderland.com, which focuses on entertainment venues in Michigan, including indoor and drive-in movie theaters.
Hopefully, all of these information sources will help you understand the great wealth of movie theater history that is faithfully continued by the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater, and Redford Theatre.
Copyright © 2015 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.