Riviera Theatre

9222 Grand River Avenue,
Detroit, MI 48208

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Riviera Theatre

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The Riviera Theatre, or Grand Riviera Theatre, as it was first called when it was opened on August 24, 1925, and was the only Detroit-area theater designed by John Eberson. It was built in an Atmospheric/Italian Renaissance style, and resembled a palazzo, complete with a spectacular auditorium decorated to look like an outdoor courtyard.

Its soaring grand lobby was equally stunning, complete with a grand marble staircase and not one but three great arched windows over front doors. A four-story vertical marquee spelled out the theater’s name boldy over Grand River Avenue.

The theater opened with the film ‘Desert Flower’. Within a couple years, it was wired for sound. In the early-1930’s, the ‘Grand’ was removed from its name-though it was no reflection on the beautiful theater itself-and was from then on known as the Riviera Theatre.

In 1957, stage shows replaced movies at the Riviera Theatre, but returned in 1962. Seven years later, the Riviera Theatre closed. From 1969 until 1974, the Riviera Theatre was used for rock concerts, but from then on, was closed, awaiting its next incarnation, which never came. It quickly began to fall into disrepair, and by the 1990’s, was a sad sight.

Unfortunately, one of Detroit’s most unique movie palaces was demolished in 1999. Since August 2001, the site has been occupied by the Deroit Grand River Social Security Office.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 28 comments)

Russr
Russr on August 31, 2007 at 5:22 am

Actually, the Annex Theater in Detroit had to have been demolished in the mid 50’s. I was born in l945 and went to the Riveria Theater almost every Saturday, standing in the long line with my cousins and paying the quarter to get in. The Riveria had two concession stands (one in the balcony).

We moved from Detroit to Dearborn Heights in l958. But I can remember being a kid about 10 or 11 and standing near the about half of the Annex as the wrecking ball hung by. I was amased at the balcony boxes all around the remaining Grand River side. It reminded me later of Ford Theater where Lincoln was shot. My only regret was that I never went inside the Annex when it was in operation.

One more tidbit before I shut up. South on Grand River on the other west side was a little second rate theater called “the Victory”. They showed movies for NINE CENTS (That’s right). I remember seeing the original War of the Worlds there. It was near the old Stark Hickory Ford Dealership.
Russ Rheaume ()

hendricksboots
hendricksboots on November 9, 2007 at 3:54 pm

I remember the elegance of the Riviera. I attended Saturday matinees there in the late 1950’s cartoon, serial or comedy and full lengeth feature for 25 cents, fresh popcorn 25 cents. The theatre lobby and auditorium were cavernous and noisy thus the manager and ushers yelled at the kids to be quiet. The Riviera hosted broadway musicals, Damn Yankees, Flower Drum Song, Fiorello, The King & I, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte and Miss Judy Garland “live on stage”. The stage shows ran late Sept – May then movies for the summer. The orchestra seats and balcony entrances were blocked to keep us “angels” in check I guess. The Fisher Theatre became the broadway house in 1961. My older relatives told me the Grand Riviera had a mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ in the pit circa 1928 through WW2.

seymourcox
seymourcox on November 19, 2007 at 10:34 pm

The Tulsa Ritz (also an Eberson design) had an identical mezzanine drinking fountain, along with the same cast statuary and urns from Michael Angelo Studios.

jenben7
jenben7 on March 15, 2008 at 10:31 pm

I would love to get a spapshot of the spiral staircase in the lobby of this beautifu;l theater, my mother and father worked here in ‘53 as usher/usherette and this is where they met 50+ yrs ago!! I hope that someone can halp.

Scott
Scott on April 29, 2010 at 6:42 pm

No doubt about it, no one does ruins better than Detroit.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on June 2, 2010 at 1:00 am

Looks like it had seen its better days in the Motor City.

DonLewis
DonLewis on October 19, 2010 at 4:35 pm

From the 1920s a postcard view of the Grand Rivera in Detroit.

carismith
carismith on January 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm

My Grandmother Laurine(Bowen)White was the Manager of the Riviera Theatre. And my mother Patricia White and aunts Sue and Faye also worked for the theatre along with my uncle Richard. Before it became a motion picture theatre they hosted Broadway musicals like “My Fair Lady” with Judi Garland. I know that the first time my mother ever met Jerry Lewis, she accidently walked into his dressing room to find him in his boxer shorts.lol My mother Patricia said she the theatre was her second home, she spent so much time there. She worked the concession and whatever else my Grandmother needed her to do. When my grandmother was alive, I remember her telling stories about Miss Judy Garland, and other actors like Jerry Lewis. I have told my mother of this site in hopes she can tell a few stories and share some old memories. Now that she see’s my comment she probably will. I can picture my grandmother running that place. She was a tiny petite lady, but what a pistol. I’m proud to of taken after her:)

richard326
richard326 on January 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm

I was born and raised on Ravenswood st. one block from the Riviera Theatre. My mother Laurine (Bowen) White started work at the Riviera during WWII as secretary and bookkeeper. She was promoted to Manager in 1949 and remained in that position until until 1960 when the beautiful Riviera began to decay. I, and my three sisters practically lived in the theatre. It gave my wonderful mother the means to raise four children and keep them out of trouble. I had the opportunity to meet the great Judy Garland. To watch backstage as the cast of Damn Yankees and Lil Abner ran about changing costumes and getting ready for their next scene. As a bonus, my Aunt Kathryn was supervisor of the concession stand. No children ever had it better. Free shows and popcorn. I will always fondly remember the Riviera Theatre.

YosemiteGirl
YosemiteGirl on July 19, 2013 at 3:47 am

As a baby until I was about 9, I lived on Yosemite, then moved to a house on Nardin Park.From the age of 6 or 7 until I turned 15 I went to the Riviera Theater every weekend (circa 1951-1960). So I probably bought candy at the Concession Stand from the Bowen ladies. Such a shame that a beautiful theater closed and has deteriorated.

I still remember the beautiful upper balconies and the majestic stairway that led to the upper level. Have many great memories of seeing all the Roy Rogers/Dale Evans movies along with “Tammy” with Debbie Reynolds, Greensleeves (paid an extra 10 cents). Back then a double feature movie with cartoons cost a quarter. Also “Summer Place” with Troy Donahue, Sandra Dee and Dorothy McGuire which popularized the beautiful Percy Faith song ‘Theme from A Summer Place.’ I had a cousin who worked as an usher and filled in at the concession stand around 1953-1954.

The Riviera Theater is forever etched in my mind and I have thought about this place often. First time on this site. Googled my old homes, and they are gone — demolished. So Sad!!!!!

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