Hollywood Theater

4809 W. Fort Street,
Detroit, MI 48209

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When it opened in 1927, the Hollywood was Detroit’s second-largest theater seating well over 3400 patrons. It was built for the Cohen Brothers at a cost of over $2 million and was situated nearly a mile west of the long-established downtown entertainment district, Grand Circus Park.

The architect, Charles N. Agree, together with associate architects Graven & Mayger, designed this huge theater in the Spanish Renaissance style complete with a large balcony, stage, and orchestra pit, as well as a Barton organ. Its lobby was 60 feet tall, and the entire interior was full of multi-colored marble, gilded plasterwork, and valuable artwork.

Its facade, with twin minaret-looking towers, soared over Fort Street, and it originally had a large vertical marquee. Its standard original marquee was intricately decorated with a rainbow colored neon-lit swirling pattern.

The Hollywood opened with the picture "Alias the Deacon", and for its first few years of operation, featured the Hollywood-Sunnybrook Orchestra, led by Sammy Diebert.

Due to its somewhat out of the way location, as well as its never jumping on the widescreen boom of the Fifties, the Hollywood really never was very popular. It turned to a double-feature program in the 40s and 50s, in order to stay afloat, but this still made little difference. Its last two films were "The Flesh is Weak" and "Blonde Bondage" in 1958.

Sadly, this largely forgotten treasure was razed in 1963 to make way for a parking lot.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

johnlauter
johnlauter on December 1, 2004 at 9:33 pm

The Hollywood was a fantastic theatre built in the wrong part of town. The developers (Ben & Lou Cohen) obviously were trying to escape high land costs in the central downtown area (where all the people and theatres are!) and instead built west of downtown in a highly industrial area. The business there never was what they had hoped, and the Hollwood limped along until the late 50’s. I'ts Barton organ was thought by the 20’s organists to be the second best theatre organ in Detroit, behind the Wurlitzer in the Broadway-Capitol. It is one of three of the largest “stock model” Bartons. Detroit theatre organ enthusast Roger Mumbrue played the Hollywood Barton many times over a 4 year period, and attests to it’s quality. The Late Henry Przybylski purchased the organ in a sealed bid auction (for $3551.51—a stratigic sum) before the theatre was demolished. It sat in storage in his basement, attic and garage for decades before being purchased from his widow. It is now owned by a private individual who wants to restore it and install it into a public venue. Henry took an amazing set of slides of the demolition of the Hollywood. I have seen his narrated show twice, and almost feel as though I have been there. The demolition was so problem ridden that it drove the first two contractors broke.

RobertR
RobertR on December 2, 2004 at 4:44 am

So they never adapted for Cinemascope? Does this mean they only ran flat films?

johnlauter
johnlauter on December 2, 2004 at 6:15 am

Apparently—I trust Bryan Krefft, his information is usually solid. This would have limited the Hollwood to B-grade fare during the crucial post-television era where innovations like Widescreen (cinemascope) and 4 channel mag sound were in all the big houses—that showed all the big features. I still think that the Hollywood’s location was unfortunate, and that if they had built along Woodward, or perhaps Bagley they would have had so much more traffic. Given Detroit’s average, it might still be there if that were the case. There must have been a point reached sometime where the smaller audiences due to location affected the quality of product they could afford, which caused less attendance—a downward spiral.

sdoerr
sdoerr on December 13, 2004 at 1:05 pm

This link will take you to pictures of the Hollywood and some information too.

johnlauter
johnlauter on March 31, 2006 at 7:11 pm

I was wrong in the figure I quoted for what Henry Przybylski paid for the Hollywood Barton—It was $3,151.51, still a stragetic sum. Hank’s son Michael corrected me.

GWaterman
GWaterman on January 7, 2007 at 3:49 pm

Liz Goldwyn’s new book about burlesque mentions the Hollywood Theatre as the place where burlesque costume designer Rex Huntington got his start in the business as a chorus boy. The book includes backstage photos and ephemera of many of the theatres on the burlesque circuit. Great book! Amazing to see this fantastic theatre, and think about how it became a major burlesque house, and then vanished.

JohnMLauter
JohnMLauter on January 1, 2008 at 5:25 pm

GWaterman—there is no evidence that the DETROIT Hollywood theatre ever became a burlesque house. It was a movie palace, its days in the sun were very brief due to the misfortune of its location, and it settled into life as a movie house quicker than its downtown rivals. We had Burley-Q theaters in Detroit, the Gayety being the most notable, but not the Hollywood.

DonLewis
DonLewis on January 18, 2009 at 6:09 pm

A 1947 view of the Hollywood Theater in Detroit.

RDtoo
RDtoo on February 2, 2011 at 11:27 pm

My father, Howard Denial, told me he managed this theatre. I suppose this would have been in the 1940s or 1950s. He would later manage the Wyandotte and Southland theatres. If anyone has any info on him at the Hollywood, I would be interested.

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