Michigan Theatre – A Story of Urban Decay

Posted by // January 3rd, 2013 // Architecture No Comments »

The plight of inner Detroit has been well documented in recent decades with the city seeing a huge decline in both industry and population. This has left a wealth of beautiful old buildings, abandoned with no purpose or function. Michigan Theatre was one such building. Opened in 1926 at a cost of five million U.S. dollars, the 4,050 capacity venue was designed by the Rapp and Rapp architectural firm. The theatre formed part of the larger Michigan Building, a thirteen storey office block.

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Source: Bob Jagendorf

At the time it was one of the largest theatres in the state of Michigan, hosting both movie showings and live performances by popular musicians and comedians. Three days after opening owner John H Kunsky declared it ‘not merely a theatre for Detroit, but a theatre for the whole world’. The ornate ceiling and endless extravagant features gave the impression of luxury with movie-goers eager to experience the fleeting impression of another world.

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The theatre would eventually close in 1976, having spent its final years operating as a nightclub. Office tenants in the above building would soon begin protesting for additional car parking facilities, threatening to leave if their demands were not met. The owners decided to gut the theatre one year later and convert it into a car park with three concrete levels providing 160 spaces. However because the theatre was part of the building’s integral structure, much of it is still intact including the beautifully detailed ceiling. Various parts of the theatre remain such as balconies, staircases and even the projection booth.

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The Michigan Theatre gained wider publicity after it appeared in the popular movie 8-mile which featured rapper Eminem. Its place in history remains as it must be one of the only French Renaissance style parking facilities in the world.

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