A few moths ago I was in Detroit for the day with a friend. On our way home we drove through the downtown streets as I have often done, in awe of some of the most beautiful architecture, much of which has been masked by decay and boarded up windows. We pulled up at the Michigan Theatre, on the corner of Bagley and Cass. Before that day, I had never stopped in an attempt to catch a glimpse inside, so with camera in hand we parked to see if I could sneak a few shots of the famed theatre turned parking garage. We were greeted by a security guard who informed us that he was closing up but if we wanted to go inside for 5 minutes, he would let us in. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I looked at my friend and without a word, we were running up the winding 3 story interior as fast as we could. I don't think that I could have imagined something so beautiful from the street hiding behind that brick exterior. All that I could think about while inside was the history of this structure, the life that it once had and the pleasure that it offered those who had the fortune of spending an evening in all its splendour. It was really a special thing to experience.
The view from the 3rd floor of the parking platform
The Michigan theatre opened on August 23, 1926 owned by Detroit philanthropist and movie theatre owner John H. Kunsky. The theatre's construction cost $5 million (equivalent to $67 million in 2014). With a seating capacity of 4050, the concert hall/movie house was one of the largest in Michigan. By the 1960's with the rise oftelevision and suburban theatres, attendance at Detroit’s movie houses dropped off dramatically. United Detroit Theatres sold the theatre and office tower on March 1, 1967, for $1.5 million (equivalent to $10.7 million in 2014). But the new owners cared only about the Michigan Building and had little interest in running a movie house. The theatre would close four days later, on March 5, 1967. After changing hands a few times after this, the theatre was turned it into a concert venue in 1973. Many of the top rock acts of the 1970s performed there, including David Bowie, The Stooges, The New York Dolls, Aerosmith, Bob Seger, Rush, Iron Butterfly, Blue Oyster Cult and Badfinger. Sadly this too was short lived. The theatre ceased operations in 1976 after operating as a nightclub named The Michigan Palace. After the closure, office tenants threatened to leave unless they received adequate parking. To retain the tenants, building owners gutted and converted the theatre into a parking structure. The theatre could not be completely demolished and replaced by a parking structure because it is integral to the structure of the office building. The ornate plaster ceiling of the theatre auditorium and grand lobby, at the ninth floor level, are still intact, as are parts of the mezzanine, the 2nd and 3rd balcony foyers and their staircases. The projection booth is also still intact. The Michigan Theatre was built on the site of the small garage where Henry Ford built his first automobile (the garage was transported brick by brick to The Henry Ford Museum). (www.historicdetroit.org)
The theatre as it once looked (www.historicdetroit.org)
Sneaking a peek inside.
On my way up the ramp
The view above
Remnants of the stage curtain
I'm not sure the basketball net was original, wink, wink!
Above the stage
The ramp to the top
The ceiling of the mezzanine
The stage and one lone performer
Photos S Mingay