Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts
350 Madison Avenue,
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Opened in 1928 as a legitimate playhouse, the Wilson Theatre once sat over 2,000. Designed by William Kapp in a stunning blend of Spanish Renaissance and Art Deco, the Wilson Theatre cost nearly $3 million to construct.
Its facade was strictly Art Deco, complete with multicolored terra cotta. The interior was even more ornate, complete with marble columns, wrought-iron railings, brass fixtures, mahogany paneling, and masks representing comedy and drama by Italian sculptor Corrado Parducci. The Wilson Theatre was immediately acclaimed for its perfect accoustics and clear sight lines.
Though primarily a legitimate theatre, the Wilson Theatre did have then-cutting edge projection equipment installed before it opened, and did screen a film “These Thirty Years” on its opening night. In 1941, the Wilson Theatre was one of just fourteen theatres nation-wide to screen Disney’s “Fantasia” in Fantasound, an early use of stereo sound.
In 1945, the Wilson Theatre closed, and was purchased by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It was renamed the Music Hall.
In 1949, the orchestra vacated the theatre and it remained closed until 1953, when Mervyn Gaskin reopened it as a venue for Cinerama films. A 66 foot-wide screen was installed.
The Music Hall was only the second Cinerama theatre in the world, and supposedly the most successful as well, playing to packed houses for years. In 1964, 70mm equipment was installed for the premier of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.
In 1966, after closing a year for remodeling, the Music Hall reopened again, this time showing second-run films, until closing once more in 1970. In 1973, the Kresge Foundation purchased the Music Hall and renamed it the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts. It received a $5 million renovation to return the interior to its 1928 appearance.
In 1977, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Music Hall has continued to receive renovations over the years, and is today one of Detroit’s most magnificent venues to see concerts and other events.
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