Downtown Theater

120 W. Adams Avenue,
Detroit, MI 48226

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Marquee of the Downtown Theatre, Detroit, MI in 1930

Opened as the Oriental Theater, this movie palace was the only Atmospheric style theater ever built in downtown Detroit, opening on September 26, 1927. It had a Middle Eastern theme to its decor, and originally seated 2,950. It was designed by Percival R. Pereira, his only theater built in the downtown area.

The opening day movie was called "Blood Ship" and despite its title, was an adventure and not a horror movie! The theater had a house orchestra in its early years, led by Frank Musial.

In 1930, the Oriental Theater was acquired by RKO and was renamed the RKO Downtown Theater. Three years later a scandal erupted at the Downtown when the management refused to allow an African-American couple to sit on the main floor in the "whites-only" area, instead of in the balcony. The theater was ordered to pay the couple $300 in damages.

The Downtown Theater was closed in 1950, having last been operated by the Chicago-based H & E Balaban chain. Three years later, the theater was demolished (except for the former lobby area) to make way for a parking lot. Its crystal chandeliers were removed and now hang in the lobby of Detroit’s Redford Theater.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 17 comments)

DonFoshey on August 28, 2007 at 2:30 pm

The lobby was included on this year’s Preservation Wayne theatre tour, which I’m really sorry I missed. I’m hoping they’ll keep it on in the 2008 tour, because most of the theatres in the tour are those that are in great shape (Detroit Fox, Music Hall, Detroit Opera House and the Gem) and those in renovation (Palms-State). Great to see, but it also helps to be able to see those in disrepair or of which only remnants survive(too bad we can’t get into the Adams or the United Artists).

John Lauter’s post stated that John Muri recorded an album on the Six Mile RKO’s Wurlitzer. Is that recording available anywhere? And what about the Muri recording on the Detroit Fox?

sdoerr on August 28, 2007 at 10:19 pm

Hey Don if you want to see photos of the theater I took look no further, visit this link. I’m adding more shots daily.

DonFoshey on August 29, 2007 at 8:54 am

Thanks SNWEB. Makes me even more sorry that I missed the tour. I hope the Oriental lobby will be on the 2008 tour.

seymourcox on November 19, 2007 at 4:26 pm

From the map function a theatre is clearly visible sitting on Park & Adams. Is this the former RKO Downtown, or another house?

sdoerr on November 20, 2007 at 12:10 am

On a current map the RKO Downtown would be seen as a parking lot. The Adams Theater is near the corner on Adams Avenue, and the United Artists in on Bagley somewhat near the corner next to a gravel lot that used to contain the Tuller Hotel.

kencmcintyre on December 22, 2008 at 9:46 pm

From Boxoffice magazine, January 1938:

DETROIT-Detroit’s off-again-on-again house, the Downtown, reported closed last week, reopened here Saturday. The house was closed by Lipton Astrachan, who went back to Chicago, but reopened by Sam Carver, who was manager of the house for the Krim circuit when it was open a few weeks ago.

RickB on September 4, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Some 2010 pictures of surviving bits of the lobby about halfway down this page.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 16, 2012 at 5:47 am

Percival Pereira was not a member of the firm of Pereira & Pereira. That firm consisted of brothers William and Hal Pereira. There is a lot of conflation of Percival and Hal on the Internet, and I suspect that much of it has been spread from Cinema Treasures. I really ought to have noticed this sooner.

rivest266 on November 5, 2015 at 3:42 am

August 23rd, 1930 grand opening ad as Downtown in photo section.

rivest266 on November 5, 2015 at 3:43 am

September 25th, 1927 grand opening ad as Oriental also in the photo section.

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