State Theatre

233 E. Front Street,
Traverse City, MI 49684

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State Theatre - Traverse City MI

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Built on the site of the Lyric Theatre which was destroyed by a fire on January 3, 1948.

The State Theatre opened on June 30, 1949 with 1,023 seats.

The State Theatre closed on September 10, 1978 for remodeling into a twin screen cinema. In December 1984 it was purchased by the Kerasotes chain.

In January 1996 the State Theatre was purchased by Barry Cole for the Michigan Ensemble Theatre and it closed as movie theatre on April 13, 1996. A 6.9 million renovation into a Community Performing Arts Center was envisaged, but these plans stalled.

In September 2003 another restoration group took on a restoration project on the State Theatre.

In June 2005 it was given a general cleaning and fix up to prepare for the Traverse City Film Festival in July 2005.

The State Theatre was officially reopened on November 17, 2007 with a gala premiere of “The Kite Runner”. Today she sits in great shape with her neon State upright sign and large marquee in funtioning order.

Contributed by Chuck Van Bibber

Recent comments (view all 16 comments)

HowardBHaas on July 3, 2007 at 6:00 pm

click the link for a nice photo.
View link

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore plans to glam up a theater in Traverse City, Mich.
“We’re going to restore this magnificent building to its old glory,” Moore told a crowd on May 30, according to the Associated Press.

The Flint-born director’s film festival, which he launched two years ago, acquired the State Theatre on May 26. It plans to turn the building, which opened in 1949 and showed its last film in 1996, into a state-of-the-art movie house with one of the largest screens in the country.

“As a kid, I grew up going to the theater until it was closed,” says John Robert Williams, film festival board member. “It’s a slice in time from my youth. We don’t want to change it. It’s in phenomenal shape.”

The film festival leased the State Theater last year from Rotary Charities of Traverse City, which acquired the building in 2006. It has essentially donated the building to the film festival.

“We started asking Rotary Charities if we could borrow or rent the State Theatre because it was a crime to be showing movies in Traverse City and not do it in the State Theatre,” Williams says. “[Previous owners] were going to rip it up and turn it into a performing arts center. It was a plan to fail.”

The roof needs repairs, and the festival plans to install a sprinkler system later this year. In the meantime, it has been spiffing up the theater, installing a custom-made screen that measures 46 feet wide.

Mike [Moore] has had lunch with George Lucas, and George is going to be supplying, free of charge, a THX sound system and a standard Dolby sound system,“ Williams says. "We’ve got all the connections. It’s going to be the place to see a movie.”

The Traverse City Film Festival runs from July 31 to Aug. 5.

deblake55 on February 21, 2008 at 8:38 am

Web Site:
State Theatre
233 East Front Street
Traverse City MI 49684
Theatre Office 231-947-3446
Hot Line with Showtimes and Info 231-947-4800
Fax 231-947-3448

deblake55 on April 20, 2008 at 4:31 pm

Also known as Lyric
State Theatre
Traverse City, MI
233 E. Front Street, Traverse City, MI 49684

Status: Open
Screens: Single Screen
Style: Art Deco
Function: Movies
Seats: 527
Chain: Independent
Architect: Michael Fitzhugh
Firm: Independent

The State Theatre was built on the site of the original Lyric Theatre that opened on July 4, 1916 with “Iron Strain” starring Dustin Farnum. On January 17, 1923, the Lyric burned – the headline read “Spontaneous Combustion Or Defective Wiring is Blamed For $75,000 Loss.” On December 20, 1923, the new Lyric opened. Seating 1,250, it was billed as one of the “prettiest and most complete motion picture houses ever constructed in a city of this size and … as fireproof as any structure can be.” The newspaper reported: “The interior walls and ceiling have been covered with tints of blue, French gray, light buff, old rose, gold and ivory in a combination of colors both satisfying and restful.”

In September 1937, Butterfield Theatres takes over management of Lyric from the Fitzpatrick-McElroy chain. Con Foster, who worked for Fitzpatrick-McElroy, is retained as local manager for Butterfield. In February 1956, Butterfield Theatres celebrates its Golden Jubilee. Specials take place throughout the year, including screenings of “The Man With The Golden Arm,” “The Benny Goodman Story,” “Anything Goes” and Traverse City’s first four-hour picture, MacKinley Kantor’s “Andersonville.”

On January 3, 1948, the Lyric burned again. The fire started near the stage, and caused a $150,000 loss. The theater was rebuilt at a cost of $200,000, and reopened as the State Theatre on June 30, 1949 with a screening of Ray Milland, Paul Douglas and Jean Peters in “It Happens Every Spring.”

On September 10, 1978, the State Theatre closed for remodeling. The last movie shown at the original single-screen State Theatre was “The End” starring Burt Reynolds.

In December 1984, Kerasotes bought many Butterfield theaters including the three in Traverse City (the twin screens downtown at the State, two screens in the Meijer Plaza, and two screens in Acme). Kerasotes did not honor contracts from the Stage Employees and Motion Picture Projectionists Unions. Long-time State Theatre employees Phil Tafelsky, Dale and Merlin Dumbrille lost their jobs. Merlin’s son Dean, a Kerasotes manager, carried out the firings. The State was the only area theater to employ union workers. Union projectionists made $5.80/hour; non-union help earned $3.35/hour. (Kerasotes was eventually renamed GKC Theatres. GKC Theatres was bought out by Carmike in 2005.)

In January 1996, Barry Cole purchased the State Theatre from GKC for the Michigan Ensemble Theatre, of which he was the founder and president. On April 13, 1996, the State Theatre closed.

In 1997, Barry Cole turned the theater over to the State Theatre Group, a Traverse City-based community group that planned to renovate the State into a 700+ seat performance center as a home for summer stock and the Traverse Symphony Orchestra. In 1999, the State Theatre Group trimmed plans from a deluxe $6.9 million center to a more modest $4.6 million plan. Fundraisers were unable to meet the target, although over $2 million was raised.

Litigation between Barry Cole and the Michigan Ensemble Theatre and the State Theatre Group stalled plans from July 2001 through January 2002. The suits were settled when Cole received $650,000 for his rights to the building. He in turn donated $25,000 to new State Theatre Group venture.

In March 8, 2002, the State Theatre Group closed on the sale, and events planned for the summer included Second City and Stage Door Theatre Company’s production of “Grease.”

In September 2003, the Interlochen Center for the Arts got involved, with plans to take over day-to-day operations and program management. The new plans called for renovating the theater and the former Kurtz Music building next door into an arts and performance complex with a 750-seat auditorium, practice rooms and studios, dressing rooms, scenery storage areas, and offices and galleries for several arts organizations. The partnership between the State Theatre Group and Interlochen was formally announced in November 7, 2003, along with a price tag of $6.5 million for the new plans. The refurbishment was expected to take three years, and the new building was to be the new home of the TSO and the Traverse Area Arts Council, to “draw marquee performances and transform Front Street into a bustling, art-savvy downtown.”

In June 2004, Interlochen opened the Bravo retail store in the Kurtz Music building’s ground floor as part of the revitalization plan. The store featured a display on Interlochen’s efforts to renovate the theater, along with the State Theatre Group.

In June 2005, Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) founder Michael Moore rallied volunteers to clean and prepare the theater for the first film festival. The Traverse City Film Festival worked out a one-time usage agreement with the State Theatre Group. On July 25, 2005, the first Traverse City Film Festival opened and movie-goers saw “Mad Hot Ballroom,” complete with kids from the movie dancing on stage as the credits rolled. It was the first movie to be seen at the State since April 13, 1996.

In January 2006, Rotary Charities became the new owner of State Theatre, taking it over from the State Theatre Group. The film festival worked out another one-time use agreement for the 2006 festival, this time with Rotary Charities. And on May 30, 2007, Rotary Charities and the Traverse City Film Festival announced that Rotary was selling the theater to the TCFF for a dollar and a five-year mortgage. If the film festival meets a series of benchmarks, including a number of days during which the lights must be on and the number of “other programming” screenings that must be included on the calendar, the mortgage will be paid.

On opening day of the third annual film festival, July 29, 2007, festival founder Michael Moore announced that the State Theatre would be owned and operated year-round by the Traverse City Film Festival beginning November 17, 2007.

A feverish renovation ensued. Thanks to generous contributions from Deluxe Film Labs/EFilm, Fifth Third Bank, Michael Moore, the Buzz Wilson Family, Richard and Diana Milock, an anonymous donor, the Herrington-Fitch Foundation, the Les and Anne Biederman Foundation, Polly Jo and James Kemler, Hedges Macdonald, and the many generous individuals who have sponsored State Theatre seats at $1,000 a piece, all new projection and sound was installed in the State Theatre, and the entire building was renovated. Beyond the restoration of the walls, floors, and exterior, the theater offers glimpses of the past by local artists. Metalsmith Bob Purvis recreated the original wall sconces and Glenn Wolff designed two murals of the theater’s 1916 opening as the Lyric and 1949 opening as the State. Updated pleasures include all new comfortable seating, concession area, a 25x50ft screen (the largest in 100 miles), a digital video cinema, and a satellite extension on the roof for major event broadcast.

On November 17, 2007, the State Theatre officially reopened with a gala premiere of “The Kite Runner.” Author Khaled Hosseini was in attendance. A week long celebration followed with films from the past and the present, including an open house attended by over 5,000 people and a performance of “Intolerance” with the great organist Steven Bell.

Call the State Theatre Hotline at 231-947-4800 for showtimes, or visit the State Theatre web site at for ticket purchases and complete information.

SchineHistorian on March 26, 2011 at 7:40 am

Theatre Historical Society will be visiting this theater during our 2011 Conclave – “The Michigan Roads Less Traveled” June 21-25. See the website for details

DavidZornig on July 31, 2011 at 3:50 pm

The State Theatre has a prominent role at the beginning of a new Lip Dub video, featuring the people of Traverse City. The link should be easy to find on YouTube.

steelbeard1 on June 14, 2013 at 11:17 am

The State Theatre is developing a second theater behind the State dubbed “Bijou by the Bay” in the old Con Foster Museum. Details at

baileysporck on July 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm

The State Theatre has the most comfortable and easy viewing seats in town. Refreshments are extremely reasonable in price and the volunteers are very friendly. Great prices and some shows are free or reduced on certain days. The visually restored and pleasing theatre is a great way to experience films.

CMHurley on March 28, 2016 at 7:58 am

Visited this theater years and years ago when I was growing up and we would visit my Grandparents in Traverse City for a few days. I do remember seeing “Raiders of the Lost Ark” there in 1981. It was always neat to see the bright sign and marquee when you traveled down Front Street!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 4, 2017 at 7:20 pm

While the December 18, 1923, issue of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, writing about the new Lyric Theatre that was soon to open, explicitly stated of the new house that “…none of the wall space of the old Lyric [was] used in the new structure,” I doubt that was the case with the rebuilding of the second Lyric as the State in 1949. For one thing, the State has a stage house, and it seems very unlikely that the movie-oriented Butterfield interests would have built an entirely new, small town theater with a stage house as late as that year. It must have survived from the Lyric of 1923.

For another, the Record-Eagle article of 1923 was at pains to note the fire resistant design of the new Lyric, though it did say that parts of the theater featured wooden wall paneling. What with the paneling, and all the upholstery, draperies, carpets, and other accouterments of the theater there was undoubtedly plenty to burn in the 1949 fire, but it is very likely that the solidly built 1923 walls would have survived and that the State Theatre was built within them.

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