Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts

350 Madison Avenue,
Detroit, MI 48226

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Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened in 1928 as a legitimate playhouse, the Wilson Theatre once sat over 2000. Designed by William Kapp in a stunning blend of Spanish Renaissance and Art Deco, the Wilson 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 was immediately acclaimed for its perfect accoustics and clear sight lines.

Though primarily a legitimate theater, the Wilson 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 was one of just fourteen theaters nation-wide to screen Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ in Fantasound, an early use of stereo sound.

In 1945, the Wilson closed, and was purchased by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It was renamed the Music Hall.

In 1949, the orchestra vacated the theater 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 theater 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.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

GREGORY
GREGORY on November 4, 2003 at 11:33 pm

Saw my first Cinerama film at the Music Hall: SOUTH SEAS ADVENTURE. I remember the screen being huge. The sound system was the best I ever heard before or since. Also saw HOW THE WEST WAS WON.

veyoung52
veyoung52 on November 27, 2004 at 5:00 pm

Re: the introductory remarks here, “…The Music Hall was only the second Cinerama theater in the world, and supposedly the most successful.” It might not have been the most successful in terms of boxoffice, those honors probably going to the New York and Hollywood Warner’s. But the MH still racked up some impressive honors. “This Is Cinerama” ran 99 weeks, bested only by the DC Warner (100 wks), NY Warner (125 wks), and the Hollywood Warner (132 wks). However, the MH’s run of “Cinerama Holiday” was the longest of all at 81 weeks. An executive of Cinerama Theatre Operations stated in a 1957 interview in “Variety” that bus and train excursions accounted for about 40 percent of Cinerama’s attendance. By the time this was printed, a “I Have Seen Cinerama Four Times Club” had 176 local members. It was also estimated – and this is trivia at its best – that in the first 4 years of Cinerama exhibition, “…the theatre’s curtain has traveled back and forth equivalent to a distance of 75 miles. A staff of 11 projectionists used more than 1,200 pairs of nylon gloves for inspecting and rewinding the film.”

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on August 25, 2012 at 7:25 pm

There is an extensive gallery of photos of the restored theater here and here is a link to the Music Hall’s page at Roland Lataille’s Cinerama history site which has a considerable amount of detail about the Music Hall’s days as a Cinerama house and much memorabilia.

Redwards1
Redwards1 on February 22, 2014 at 11:49 am

There is an error in the description of the Cinerama screen. It was not 64 feet tall, it was 24 feet tall & 66 feet wide, with a 10 foot deep curve. I think the projection booth was moved to the rear of the first balcony for the reserved seat engagement of Lion In Winter (70mm Panavision) in 1968. The Cinerama screen was retained & the sound was excellent, in particular the deep bass resonance of John Barry’s thrilling score accompanying the opening credits. Dialogue was also crystal clear.

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