Downtown Theatre

120 W. Adams Avenue,
Detroit, MI 48226

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Marquee of the Downtown Theatre, Detroit, MI in 1930

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

The opening day movie was called “Blood Ship” starring Hobart Bosworth, and despite its title, was an adventure and not a horror movie! The theatre had a house orchestra in its early years, led by Frank Museal. It was equipped with a 3 manual 15 ranks Kimball organ. For many years the house organist was Dudley Boomhower.

On August 23, 1930, the Oriental Theatre was acquired by RKO and was renamed the RKO Downtown Theatre, reopening with Bebe Daniels in “Dixiana”. Three years later a scandal erupted at the RKO Downtown Theatre 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 theatre was ordered to pay the couple $300 in damages.

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

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 19 comments)

DonFoshey
DonFoshey on August 29, 2007 at 5:54 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
seymourcox on November 19, 2007 at 1:26 pm

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

sdoerr
sdoerr on November 19, 2007 at 9:10 pm

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
kencmcintyre on December 22, 2008 at 6:46 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
RickB on September 4, 2010 at 8:10 pm

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

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 16, 2012 at 2:47 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
rivest266 on November 5, 2015 at 12:42 am

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

rivest266
rivest266 on November 5, 2015 at 12:43 am

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

nsortzi
nsortzi on January 4, 2021 at 10:44 pm

The former lobby is now home of an Asian restaurant called Pao. The rest of the building is apartments.

BobHollberg
BobHollberg on March 22, 2021 at 9:58 am

As the RKO Downtown, it hosted the Detroit premieres of many famous RKO films of the early 1930s, including Cimarron (1931), King Kong (1933), and Top Hat (1935). It also hosted first runs of the classic Universal horror films Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and The Invisible Man (1935). (From the Detroit Free Press archives of Newspapers.com)

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