Keeping Memories Alive

To better appreciate the preservation of the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater, and Redford Theatre, think about the outpouring of memories and emotions that have come this past week because of the demolition of Tiger Stadium.

And just imagine the news stories that might have been written if special efforts had not been made to maintain the DFT, Michigan and Redford for future generations:

“The renovation of the Detroit Institute of Arts will include the complete remodeling of the auditorium on the John R side of the museum.  The auditorium will be transformed into more exhibition space.  In recent years, the auditorium had been used only for the occasional film, play, or music concert.  The lecture hall on the lower level of the museum will now be used for the events that had been held in the auditorium.  For larger events, the DIA has worked out an agreement with Wayne State University for the use of Hilberry Theatre.”

“Pedestrians on Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor are stepping around a large dumpster in front of the now-closed Michigan Theater, where work has begun to turn the ancient movie palace into a food court.  This follows the recent salvage work that included the removal of unique and/or historical items like the Barton organ, chandeliers, large mirrors, stairway railings, and display cases, which will be preserved by area collectors. The food court (with its Internet kiosks and large-screen TVs) will add to the variety of restaurants and coffee shops in the downtown area.”

“Another relic of the old days of the Detroit neighborhood movie theater has passed into history.  And another large, vacant building has taken root in a city that has way too many already.  The Redford Theatre, which entertained city and suburban residents since 1928, has shut its doors for good.  The theater’s Barton organ has been put into storage, as the Motor City Theatre Organ Society ponders purchase offers for it from restaurants, casinos, and other businesses.  There are no plans yet for a new use of the theater building.”

Special Moments

With Tiger Stadium and the Detroit Movie Palaces, there has always been a magic moment when I realized that I was in a special place.  With the theaters, it’s usually somewhere between the ticket booth and the auditorium, when a combination of sights, sounds and smells reminds me of why I keep coming back.

At Tiger Stadium, that moment would come when I’d catch my first glimpse of that glowing green field through a corridor.  By then, my senses had already been enriched by the many food smells (especially those grilling hot dogs).  The crack of a bat during batting practice would pull me completely into that unique atmosphere.

So there you have it, the loss of another historic building which will continue to live most fully in the memories of those who tried to preserve it.  A poignant lesson for all of us who support the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater, and Redford Theatre.

Detroit Movie Palaces Home Page

Copyright © 2008 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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    3 Responses to Keeping Memories Alive

    1. Chris says:

      Do you know where and when the original 1939 ‘The Wizard of Oz’ premiered in Detroit?

    2. Administrator says:

      I don’t know that information about Detroit, but according to the book The New York Times at the Movies, it opened in New York City on Aug. 17, 1939 at the Capitol. You could find that information for Detroit in the microfilm collection at either the main branch of the Detroit Public Library or the graduate library at the University of Michigan.

    3. Administrator says:

      The Wizard of Oz premiered in Detroit on August 24, 1939 at the United Artists theater. For more information see this link:

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