Fisher Theatre

3011 West Grand Boulevard,
Detroit, MI 48202

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Showing 1 - 25 of 27 comments

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on August 8, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Three pages of 1929 photos start here: archive

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on July 19, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Fascinating; the modernizaton of the Fisher was probably, if not definitely, the last theater design project of the Rapp & Rapp firm before it was dissolved; the two brothers had passed on well before 1961. Many now regard this design as looking very dated, whereas the entrance arcades, which are original and in a very different design, now look classic.

It is interesting too to read that even after the redo, the Fisher had, perhaps still has, has motion picture projection capability, but it would appear to have rarely used; perhaps occasionally for special events or trade shows, but I can’t recall any public showings there since it became a well-known house for Broadway shows.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Extreme renovations described in this 1962 trade article:Boxoffice

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on November 25, 2010 at 2:52 am

Yes, the large entrance arcades are original, but their architectural style is markedly different from the Fisher’s original or remodeled interior. There are some fragments of the original decor on display in a case at the top of a staircase in the lobby.

spectrum
spectrum on November 25, 2010 at 2:36 am

I met a gentleman who worked at the remodeled Fisher for a number of years – asked him if any of the original auditorium details exist behind the new walls and ceiling. He said that during the conversion, all of the original auditorium details were ripped out except for a small part of the ceiling and back upper walls at the very back of the balcony. From the pictures at their website, it looks like the main lobby was also remodeled, but the big arcade outside of that still has the original ornamentation.

Samuel Augustus Jennings
Samuel Augustus Jennings on April 13, 2009 at 10:44 pm

By the late 50’s the Fisher Theater only screened second-run movies, but it was still a first class operation in every other respect. It was always a special treat to go to the Fisher no matter what was playing, because the Hollywood palace was a visually entrancing masterpiece.

We used to go to a picture show every Sunday evening after dinner when I visited my father and stepmother in Detroit during the summers in the 1950’s and this family tradition continued when I moved to the Motor City in 1957. I soon learned how to get around the city by bus to see different movies playing on Saturdays after completing my chores. The first-run downtown theaters and the Fisher were my favorites – and the most expensive – but that didn’t stop me because I was hooked on big city style and grandeur.

I left Detroit for good when we relocated to Los Angeles in 1959. I have been back several times since and was completely devastated by the destruction of a once proud and vibrant city.

My fondest Motown memories are the Michigan Central train station, Hudson Department Store, Fox Theater, Fisher Theater, Woodward Avenue streetcars and Sanders deli which seved the best hot fudge sundae made with real hot caramel. I miss the annual Thanksgiving Day Christmas Parade on Woodward and the dazzling movie marquees that lit up Grand Circus Park fronted by an outdoor newsstand – next to the public toilets – where I bought (or stole) little pocket sized male physique magazines hidden between the mattresses.

RJT70mm
RJT70mm on January 31, 2009 at 3:13 pm

When the Fisher was remodeled in 1961 there were a pair of Bauer U2 35/70mm projectors installed for occasional film shows. Does anyone know if they still have film capability?

BhillH20
BhillH20 on January 31, 2009 at 3:30 am

Here in Downtown Los Angeles, there is the most exotic Mayan Theater which now a nightclub. Opened in August, 1927.

Pernaris
Pernaris on July 7, 2008 at 12:32 am

Restorations can be a catch 22, but it always helps the economy and boosts neighborhood appeal.
I direct a non-profit organization to promote the arts and culture exchanges within our region in Miami, FL(BRAC).
We have been in desperate need to find classic, not restored theater seats… and well in Florida they are not easy to come by…
If someone ere knows how I may be able to contact these people,I will greatly appreciate it, please drop me a line. we are dying to get our hands on some classic original seat.
B. Pernaris
BRAC

LuisV
LuisV on March 19, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Stevebob, please don’t misunderstand…I also appreciate a modern design as well. I’m a big fan of The Ziegfeld in New York, which is approaching its 40th anniversary and therefore will become eligible for landmarking. My comment about the Fisher was more about what was lost than what was gained. The old Mayan design appeared to be spectacular and the new design pales in comparison.

By the way, The current Ziegfeld is the latest incarnation of that theater. The original was just down the block and, it too, was an incredibly beautiful theater that was a shame to lose. As much as I love the current Ziegfeld, it too doesn’t hold a candle to the original.

stevebob
stevebob on March 19, 2008 at 12:42 am

The destruction of the original 1928 auditorium was a significant and sad loss, especially considering the rarity of Mayan Revival movie palaces. But as much as I love the architecture typical of the 1920s and 1930s, I appreciate mid-century modern, too. The “new” Fisher is a strikingly high quality example of that esthetic.

I would be greatly relieved to know that nothing will significantly alter Rapp and Rapp’s 1961 redesign. Fortunately, LuisV is probably correct that a budget of $3.5 million is too low to inflict serious damage.

LuisV
LuisV on March 18, 2008 at 8:12 pm

Wow, I just saw pics from the Fisher Theater on the winterwonderland.com website. The old photos are beautiful. This was an impressive theater. The 1961 renovation is disappointing to say the least. It’s amazing what was done in the past in the name of modernization. Since Nederlander is only investing $3MM and, per the article, part of that money is going into enlarged restrooms for ladies, it’s apparent that it will just be a sprucing up with new seating, new rugs, maybe some lighting. Nothing major. A shame.

The Detroit Fox has nothing to worry about.

Broan
Broan on March 18, 2008 at 7:46 pm

The Chicago Tribune discusses projects in 1956, 1957, 1960, 1961, and 1964 so, maybe yes, maybe no. It wasn’t their last project, but it was their last theater. The firm was probably quite skeletal at that point.

stevebob
stevebob on March 18, 2008 at 6:59 pm

This Detroit message board suggests (in the message dated December 23, 2007 – 2:06 am) that Rapp and Rapp (i.e., Rapp & Rapp) had already dissolved and somehow regrouped for this project.

Rapp & Rapp had disbanded by the time the 1960-61 Fisher commission was established. They got enough of the old employees together to do the modernized rehab of the Fisher.

Does anyone know when the firm officially disbanded, and whether its official name was “Rapp and Rapp” or “Rapp & Rapp”? (My references have been to the firm, not the individual named partners. I knew that they had died long before the Fisher project; sorry for the confusion.)

Broan
Broan on March 18, 2008 at 6:40 pm

As Life’s Too Short will tell you, Mason Rapp (1906-1978) who was heading the firm at the time of its dissolution in 1965, trained under the brothers and officially joined the firm with the Gateway Theater in 1929. So, yes, I do think there was a significant amount of continuity in the firm. The architects aren’t the only ones involved in design, but they get the credit. Mies' firm continued producing buildings in his signature style as Fujikawa Conterato Lohan & Associates, with descendants and proteges; the same could be said of D.H. Burnham and Sons following Burnham’s death. As long as the firm has many of the same actors and understands the philosophy, they can continue to produce work in the same vein. Obviously aesthetic and program requirements had changed considerably by the 60s, but there’s a reason they went to Rapp and Rapp to do it and not some other firm; the firm had a reputation for expertise in theaters, not just because of the name but also the people.

Scott
Scott on March 18, 2008 at 6:20 pm

The same people that were there in the 1920s were there in 1961? Ok, if you say so. I was simply pointing out that Rapp & Rapp had passed away so it wasn’t as if they had, for example, designed the Chicago Theatre and also had done the Fisher modernization. The architectural firm lived on, but the founders of it had died.

LuisV
LuisV on March 18, 2008 at 6:13 pm

I hadn’t realized there was such a stark difference in the before and after. All the more unfortunate since there are no photos to be found of either incarnation.

I wish the Schuberts owned this theater. They’d take much better care of it. They’d also be more apt to restore original features. The Nederlanders are misers and are notorius in the business for making minimal nvestments in their theaters.

Broan
Broan on March 18, 2008 at 6:08 pm

Well, yes, but certainly the brothers were not the only ones working on the design, but the designs were rather the product of them and those draftsmen and designers in their office, so it was almost certainly many of the same people nonetheless.

Scott
Scott on March 18, 2008 at 6:03 pm

stevebob, you note the irony of how, in 1961, the Rapp and Rapp firm was commissioned to modernize this elaborate movie palace of 1928. Although I do see the irony, keep in mind that the brothers C.W. Rapp and George L. Rapp had died in 1926 and 1941, respectively. So they had nothing to do with the Fisher’s startling modernization. The 1961 modernization but the surviving Rapp & Rapp firm is, I suppose, somewhat interesting, but it’s a big letdown from its earlier appearance.

stevebob
stevebob on March 18, 2008 at 5:06 pm

After finding that Detroit News article â€" and seeing that the Nederlander site for the Fisher was silent as to any renovation plans even though a decision was to have been reached in January â€" I searched for updated information. I didn’t find anything.

This story is definitely something to keep an eye on. Rapp and Rapp’s final architectural commission is inherently interesting, even if (or perhaps because) it is antithetical to that firm’s movie palace pedigree. It’s quite an ironic twist that their swan song should be removing all the ornate ornamentation from a movie palace and transforming it into a modernistic, relatively austere performance space.

I cited this page in my submission to Restorations/Renovations for its pictures of the original Mayan decor and Rapp and Rapp’s mid-century modern treatment. Surely there must be more somewhere (especially of the latter), but I haven’t come up with anything. (And as LuisV points out, the official site is as stingy in this regard as with information about what’s going on.)

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on March 18, 2008 at 4:00 pm

LuisV, that’s not an article from last month, but from December, posted on the homepage of this website.

If any “final decision” has been made, it hasn’t been posted here yet.

LuisV
LuisV on March 18, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Here’s a copy of the article that appeared last month in The Detroit News announcing a long overdue renovation of this palace. The last one was way back in the early 60’s! Let' hope the Nederlanders go through with it as they are known to be quite cheap.

Fisher Theatre overhaul in wings
$3.5M renovation to add seats, fix up facility could leave venue dark for most of 2008.
Lawrence B. Johnson / Special to The Detroit News

The Fisher Theatre could close for six months, beginning in late February, for a $3.5 million renovation that would improve backstage amenities, add restroom facilities and increase the auditorium’s seating capacity.

The project will be paid for by the Nederlander Co., which presents an annual series of nationally touring shows at the Fisher under the banner “Broadway in Detroit.”

The 2007-08 season will stop in late February, with the close of “Mamma Mia.” That’s when work crews will begin sprucing up the old theater in a project that will continue into November, said Alan Lichtenstein, Nederlander’s executive director.

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“We’re fixing the joint up,” Lichtenstein said Friday. “The women are going to love us. We’re giving them 16 new restroom stalls.”

Other renovation plans call for updating the backstage technology, expanding dressing rooms, adding spaces for party rental and increasing the number of auditorium seats to 2,400 from fewer than 2,100.

It would be the first substantial renovation of the theater since it was leased by the Nederlander Co. in 1961 — just after the theater was converted from its original purpose, as a vaudeville and movie palace, to a legitimate stage for $3.5 million.

Lichtenstein offered the first glimpse of a high-powered 2008-09 “Broadway in Detroit” season that he sees opening in November with the award-winning musical “Avenue Q.”

The lineup already booked for a refurbished Fisher includes “Jersey Boys,” “A Chorus Line” and “Wicked.”

The Fisher Building, designed by Albert Kahn and opened in 1928, is now owned by the Farbman Group, but Nederlander Chief Operating Officer Ray Harris said any improvements to the theater would be paid for by Nederlander, which is in the second year of a new 30-year lease on the venue.

Harris cautioned the renovation plan is still tentative and that it could be scrapped.

“It’s a bit premature to be talking about this before we’ve revisited a number of issues with the architects,” Harris said.

A final decision on whether to proceed probably will be made in January, he said.

LuisV
LuisV on March 18, 2008 at 3:42 pm

It’s amazing the the theater’s own web site does not include any photos of the theater.

Broan
Broan on February 12, 2006 at 7:20 pm

Incidentally, Graven & Mayger were both formerly of Rapp & Rapp.