Theatre in Detroit

Theatre in Detroit
A National Historic Landmark, the Detroit Fox Theatre lights up Foxtown at night.

Theatre in Detroit discusses performing arts in the city, its history, and its venues. With more than a dozen performing arts venues, the city's theatre district ranks as the second largest in the United States after Manhattan's Broadway,[1][2] the stages and old time film palaces are generally located along Woodward Avenue, the city's thoroughfare, between the downtown and New Center area. Some additional venues are located in neighborhood areas of the city.[3]



The Fillmore Detroit is located beside the Fox Theatre along Detroit's Woodward Ave.
An example of a Barton theatre organ - Michigan Theatre, Ann Arbor.

Detroit has a long theatrical history, with many venues dating back to the 1920s.[4] The Detroit Fox Theatre (1928) was the first theater ever constructed with built-in film sound equipment. Commissioned by William Fox and built by architect C. Howard Crane, the ornate Detroit Fox was fully restored in 1988. It is the largest of the nation's Fox Theatres with 5,045 seats.[5][6] The city has been a place for operatic, symphonic, musical and popular acts since the first part of the twentieth century. Portions of Leonard Bernstein's music for West Side Story, produced by Detroit's Nederlander Organization, were composed on the piano that resides in the library at Cranbrook in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. David T. Nederlander's career began after purchasing a 99 year lease on the Detroit Opera House. His son, the organization's chairman, James M. Nederlander, also a Detroit native, coproduced over one hundred famous theatrical classics, including West Side Story, Hello, Dolly!, The King and I, and Fiddler on the Roof.[7] Today, the Nederlander Organization operates Detroit's Fisher Theatre, the Detroit Opera House, and several theatres in other major cities on the Broadway theatre circuit. Organizations such as the Mosiac Youth Theatre support the city's theatre community.[8]

The Detroit Opera House's backhouse extends along Madison Ave.
Old Detroit Opera House on Campus Martius in 1907.

During the late 1980s the great old motion picture screens and live performance stages began to be restored. The Fox Theatre, Detroit Opera House (formerly the Grand Circus Theatre; Broadway Capitol Theatre; Paramount Theatre; Capital Theatre), and The Fillmore Detroit (formerly the State Theater; Palms Theater) are notable restorations. The Fillmore Detroit is the site of the annual Detroit Music Awards held in April. Other venues were modernized and expanded such as Orchestra Hall, the home of the world renowned Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Next to the Detroit Opera House is the restored 1,700-seat Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts (1928) at 350 Madison Avenue, designed by William Kapp and developed by Matilda Dodge Wilson. The Detroit Institute of Arts contains the renovated 1,150-seat Detroit Film Theatre. Smaller sites with long histories in the city were preserved by physically moving the entire structure. In a notable preservation, the Gem Theatre and Century Theatre were moved (off their foundation) to a new address across from the Music Hall Center in order to construct Comerica Park. Detroit's 1,571-seat Redford Theatre (1928), with its Japanese motifs, is home to the Motor City Theatre Organ Society (MCTOS).[9][10]

Along with Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre, the only graduate repertory theater in the nation, Detroit has enjoyed a resurgence in theatrical productions and attendance. In the 2000s, shows ranging from touring musicals to local theatre happen nightly and the theatres have sparked a significant increase in nightlife; hospitality ventures serving the area have increased accordingly. With its sports venues and casinos, the Detroit Theatre District has revitalized neighborhoods like Grand Circus Park and its nearby Foxtown, Greektown, the Cultural Center and New Center area anchored by the 2,089-seat Fisher Theatre.[3]

The city has some surviving historic theatres which have been converted to other uses while others await redevelopment. Albert Kahn and Ernest Wilby designed the Beaux Arts styled National Theatre (1911) with its Moorish entry at 118 Monroe Street which also awaits redevelopment.[3] The 2,200 seat National Theatre is the oldest surviving theatre from the city's first theatre district.[11] The futuristic Cadillac Centre begins construction on Detroit's historic Monroe block, once a collection of eight antebellum commercial buildings demolished in 1990.[12] C. Howard Crane designed the Neo-Renaissance styled United Artists Theatre Building at 150 Bagley Street slated to become a residential high rise. The 600-seat Stratford Theatre at 4751 W. Vernor Hwy., designed by Joseph P. Jogerst, seated 1,137 when it opened in 1916. The Art Deco styled Stratford Theatre in the West Vernor-Junction Historic District has operated as a retail store since 1985. The ornate Spanish styled Hollywood Theatre (1927) at the corner of Ferdinand and Fort St. was demolished in 1963.[13] When the historic Hollywood opened, it was the city's second largest with 3,400 seats.[13] The Hollywood Barton theatre organ was saved and awaits restoration.[14] There were over 7,000 such organs installed in American theatres from 1915 to 1933, but fewer than forty remain in their original location such as the Barton theatre organ in Ann Arbor's Michigan Theatre.[15]

Detroit's performance centers and theatres emanate from the Grand Circus Park Historic District and continue along Woodward Avenue toward the Fisher Theatre in the city's New Center.[3] The Detroit Opera House is located at Broadway and Grand Circus. The east necklace of downtown links Grand Circus and the stadium area to Greektown along Broadway.[3] The east neckace contains a sub-district sometimes called the Harmonie Park District in the Broadway Avenue Historic District which has taken on the renowned legacy of Detroit's music from the 1930s through the 1950s and into the present.[16] Near the Opera House, and emanating from Grand Circus along the east necklace, are other venues including the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts and the Gem Theatre and Century Club. The historic Harmonie Club and Harmonie Centre are located along Broadway. The Harmonie Park area ends near Gratiot and Randolph.[3]

Performing arts venues

Name Image Built Location Capacity Organization Style Architect
Fox Theatre FoxD Sunset Marguee Hockeytown Cafe.jpg 1928 2211 Woodward Ave.
42°20′18″N 83°3′9″W / 42.33833°N 83.0525°W / 42.33833; -83.0525 (Fox Theater Building)
5,045 Olympia Entertainment Art Deco facade,
Burmese, Chinese
C. Howard Crane
Detroit Masonic Temple Theatre Detroit Masonic Temple - Detroit Michigan.jpg 1922 500 Temple Ave.
42°20′30″N 83°3′37″W / 42.34167°N 83.06028°W / 42.34167; -83.06028 (Detroit Masonic Temple)
4,404 Olympia Entertainment Neo-Gothic George D. Mason
Bert's Warehouse Theater 2739 Russell 3,000 Bert's Entertainment Bohemian warehouse
Detroit Opera House DetroitOperaHouse.jpg 1922 1526 Broadway Street 2,700 Michigan Opera Theater,
Italian Renaissance C. Howard Crane
Fillmore Detroit Fillmore Detroit marquee.jpg 1925 2115 Woodward Ave.
42°20′16″N 83°3′7″W / 42.33778°N 83.05194°W / 42.33778; -83.05194 (The Fillmore Detroit Theatre)
2,200 Live Nation Neo-Renaissance C. Howard Crane
Fisher Theatre GrandBoulevardNewCenterDetroit.jpg 1927 3011 West Grand Boulevard
42°22′8.5″N 83°4′36.92″W / 42.369028°N 83.0769222°W / 42.369028; -83.0769222 (Fisher Building)
2,089 Nederlander Art Deco Albert Kahn
Orchestra Hall[17] Max M Fisher Music Center.jpg 1919 3711 Woodward Ave.
42°20′55″N 83°3′33″W / 42.34861°N 83.05917°W / 42.34861; -83.05917 (Orchestra Hall)
2,014 Detroit Symphony Orchestra Neo-Renaissance C. Howard Crane
Harpos Concert Theatre 1939 1315 Broadway St. 1,975 Wisper & Wetsman Art moderne Charles N. Agree
Motor City Casino theatre Motorcitycasinodetroit.jpg 2007 2901 Grand River Avenue 1,800 Novelty, Modern Giffels Inc., NORR Limited
Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts Music Hall Detroit.jpg 1928 350 Madison Ave.
42°20′14″N 83°2′46″W / 42.33722°N 83.04611°W / 42.33722; -83.04611 (Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts)
1,700 Kresge Foundation Art Deco facade,
Spanish Renaissance
William E. Kapp, Smith Hinchman & Grylls
Redford Theatre RedfordTheatreMarquee.jpg 1928 17354 Lahser Ave.
42°25′2″N 83°15′27″W / 42.41722°N 83.2575°W / 42.41722; -83.2575 (Redford Theatre Building)
1,571 Motor City Theater Organ Society Exotic Revival, Japanese motifs Ralph F. Shreive with Verner, Wilheim, and Molby[10]
Majestic Theater MajesticTheaterDetroit.jpg 1915 4140 Woodward Avenue
42°21′11″N 83°03′37″W / 42.35301°N 83.06031°W / 42.35301; -83.06031 (Majestic Theater)
1,260 Art Deco C. Howard Crane
Riverfront 4 Movie Theatres Rencenwintergarden.jpg 1978 Renaissance Center
42°19′44.38″N 83°2′22.95″W / 42.3289944°N 83.0397083°W / 42.3289944; -83.0397083 (Riverfront 4 Movie Theatres)
1250 Modern John Portman
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill
Greektown Casino theatre GreektownCasinohotelandStMaryRCChurchDetroit.jpg 2009 555 East Lafayette 1,200 Novelty, Modern Rossetti
MGM Grand Detroit theatre MGMGrand Detroit1.jpg 2007 1777 Third Street 1,200 MGM Mirage Modern SmithGroup
Bonstelle Theatre Temple Beth-El Bonstelle Theater.jpg 1903 3424 Woodward Ave.
42°20′46″N 83°3′25″W / 42.34611°N 83.05694°W / 42.34611; -83.05694 (Bonstelle Theatre)
1,173 Wayne State University Neoclassical Albert Kahn,
C. Howard Crane
Detroit Film Theatre DetroitInstituteoftheArts2010B.jpg 1927 5201 Woodward Ave.
42°21′31″N 83°3′57″W / 42.35861°N 83.06583°W / 42.35861; -83.06583 (Detroit Film Theatre)
1,150 Detroit Institute of Arts Neo-Renaissance Paul Philippe Cret
Senate Theatre 1926 6424 Michigan Ave 900 Detroit Theater Organ Society Art Deco Christian W. Brandt
Hillberry Theatre Hilberry Theatre WSU - Detroit Michigan.jpg 1916 532 Wayne State University Neoclassical Field, Hinchman and Smith
City Theatre HockeytownCafeCityTheatreDetroit.jpg 2004 2301 Woodward Ave. 500 Olympia Entertainment
Gem Theatre Gem Theatre - Detroit Michigan.jpg 1927 333 Madison
42°20′15″N 83°2′47″W / 42.3375°N 83.04639°W / 42.3375; -83.04639 (Century Building and Little Gem Theatre)
450 Italian Renaissance George D. Mason
Century Theatre 1903 333 Madison
42°20′15″N 83°2′47″W / 42.3375°N 83.04639°W / 42.3375; -83.04639 (Century Building and Little Gem Theatre)
250 Italian Renaissance George D. Mason
Chrysler IMAX Dome Theatre 2001 5020 John R. St. 230 Detroit Science Center Postmodern BEI Associates, Neumann/Smith, William Kessler Associates
Detroit Repertory Theatre 1963 13103 Woodrow Wilson 194 Detroit Repertory Theatre
The Players The Players Detroit MI.jpg 1925 3321 East Jefferson Ave. The Players Club Florentine Renaissance, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco murals. William E. Kapp, Smith Hinchman & Grylls
Bohemian National Home Bohemian National Home Detroit Michigan.jpg 1914 3009 Tillman Street
Studio Theatre 112 Wayne State University Black box
Boll Family YMCA Theatre 1401 Broadway YMCA,
Plowshares Theatre Company

Historic venues awaiting restoration

Name Image Built Location Capacity Organization Style Architect
National Theatre[11]
118monroedetroit.jpg 1911 118 Monroe St.
42°19′58″N 83°2′45″W / 42.33278°N 83.04583°W / 42.33278; -83.04583 (National Theatre)
2,200 Phoenix Properties LLC Baroque-Beaux Arts-Moorish Albert Kahn
United Artists Theatre Building
United Artists Theatre Building.jpg 1928 150 Bagley St. 2,070 Ilitch Holdings Spanish Gothic C. Howard Crane
Alger Theater
Alger Theater Detroit.jpg 1935 16541 East Warren Avenue
1,500 Friends of the Alger Theater [18][19] Art Deco

See also


  1. ^ Firsts and facts Detroit Tourism Economic Development Council. Retrieved on July 24, 2008.
  2. ^ Arts & Culture Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. Retrieved on July 24, 2008. "Detroit is home to the second largest theatre district in the United States."
  3. ^ a b c d e f Hill, Eric J. and John Gallagher (2002). AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3120-3. 
  4. ^ Hauser, Michael and Marianne Weldon (2006). Downtown Detroit's Movie Palaces (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-4102-8. 
  5. ^ Hodges, Michael H. (September 8, 2003).Fox Theater's rebirth ushered in city's renewal. Michigan History, The Detroit News. Retrieved on November 23, 2007.
  6. ^ Marzejka, Laurie J. (January 25, 1998).Detroit's historic Fox Theatre. Michigan History, The Detroit News. Retrieved on July 9, 2009.
  7. ^ James M. Nederlander biography. Film Reference. Retrieved on August 17, 2008.
  8. ^ Mosiac Youth Theatre. Retrieved on July 8, 2009.
  9. ^ AIA Detroit Urban Priorities Committee, (January 10, 2006).Top 10 Detroit Interiors.Model D Media. Retrieved on November 23, 2007.
  10. ^ a b Redford Theatre Building. Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved on January 14, 2008.
  11. ^ a b National Theatre.Buildings of Detroit. Retrieved on July 16, 2009.
  12. ^ Hyde, Charles (May–June 1991).Demolition by Neglect: The Failure to Save the Monroe Block.Michigan History Magazine.Retrieved on January 20, 2008.
  13. ^ a b The Hollywood Theatre, Detroit, MI. The Detroit News (March 17, 1963). Cited at Retrieved on January 14, 2008.
  14. ^ Hooray for Hollywood. Journal of the American Theatre Organ Society (November/December [1998]). Cited at Retrieved on January 14, 2008.
  15. ^ Aldridge, Henry B. (September/October 1998).The Michigan Theatre Celebrates Twenty-Five Years of Organ Overtures. Journal of the American Theatre Organ Society. Cited at Retrieved on January 14, 2008.
  16. ^ Harmonie Park District.Retrieved on January 31, 2010.
  17. ^ Orchestra Hall restoration. State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved on December 10, 2007.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Alger Theater.Buildings of Detroit. Retrieved on July 16, 2009.

References and further reading

  • Cantor, George (2005). Detroit: An Insiders Guide to Michigan. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472030922. 
  • Eisenstein, Paul (February 1997). Relighting the Footlights: The Detroit Opera House renovation recaptures the golden age of the American stage. Popular Mechanics.
  • Hauser, Michael and Marianne Weldon (2006). Downtown Detroit's Movie Palaces (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-4102-8. 
  • Hill, Eric J. and John Gallagher (2002). AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3120-3. 
  • Meyer, Katherine Mattingly and Martin C.P. McElroy with Introduction by W. Hawkins Ferry, Hon A.I.A. (1980). Detroit Architecture A.I.A. Guide Revised Edition. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-1651-4. 
  • Sharoff, Robert (2005). American City: Detroit Architecture. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3270-6. 
  • Sobocinski, Melanie Grunow (2005). Detroit and Rome: building on the past. Regents of the University of Michigan. ISBN 0933691092. 

External links

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