238 Bagley Street,
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Built on the site of Henry Ford’s house. The Michigan Theatre was built for the Kunsky circuit in 1926 by Chicago-based firm Rapp & Rapp, in their traditional French Renaissance style, and sat over 4,000 in its cavernous auditorium.
It cost over $5 million and was extravagantly elegant. The Michigan’s four-story lobby was decorated with a set of huge chandeliers, towering columns painted to resemble multi-colored marble, and oil-paintings and sculpture from Europe. Its grand staircase swept up-wards to a mezzanine level complete with a sitting area with antique furniture and another staircase led to the balcony levels.
The auditorium featured a large orchestra pit, and a $50,000 Wurlitzer 5 manual 28 rank organ. Its stage was large enough to accommodate the most elaborate stage shows of the day.
Opening day August 23, 1926 featured the film, “You’ll Never Know Women” starring Florence Vidor. The first sound film at the Michigan Theatre was in 1928, Esther Ralston in “Sawdust Paradise”.
In 1933, United Detroit Theaters acquired the Michigan Theatre from Paramount-Publix/Balaban & Katz, who had in turn, purchased it from Kunsky.
By the end of the 1930’s, both the live stage shows and the grand Wurlitzer organ were gone, and the theatre featured only movies.
In 1954, a wide screen was installed, damaging the proscenium arch’s ornate plasterwork. The first CinemaScope film screened at the Michigan Theatre was “The Command” starring Guy Madison.
The original multi-story vertical marquee on the Michigan Theatre was removed in 1952 and replaced with a much plainer standard marquee.
After declining attendance made the theatre unprofitable for United Detroit to keep operating during most of the 1960’s, they closed it on March 5, 1967.
Nicholas George reopened the theatre later the same year, but it struggled and was shuttered three years later.
In 1973, it was converted into a supper club named the Michigan Palace, but only lasted several months before going out of business. Renamed Michigan Theatre again, until 1976 it was used for rock concerts.
The theatre’s owners at the time decided to convert the magnificent palace into a three level parking garage. While portions of the lobby, upper balcony and the projection booth are somewhat intact, the auditorium was stripped down to its shell except for the ceiling and parts of the upper proscenium arch, which still hang on the garage’s upper floor looking like ancient Roman ruins.
You can still see the holes in the plasterwork where the chandeliers once hung, and there are still areas where the plasterwork remains gilded despite the grime and neglect of decades.
The theatre can be seen in the movie “8 Mile” in the background as they rap before they enter the Chin Tiki, and is also featured in “Lose Yourself”, by Eminem as a stage backdrop.
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