George Burns Theatre

33330 Plymouth Road,
Livonia, MI 48150

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George Burns Theatre

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One of the last Detroit-area theaters built with a full stage and orchestra pit, the Mai Kai was built for Nicholas George in 1963 at a cost of over $1.5 million. It could seat 1,396 and decorated in Polynesian style, as its name would imply, though it had all the most up-to-date amenities of a 1960’s-era movie house, including both 35mm and 70mm projectors, a huge 60' by 27'; screen, and comfortable seating.

On opening night, the stars of the first movie to play the Mai Kai, “Son of Flubber”, Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello, were in attendance. Also, the Mai Kai Orchestra performed, for the first and last time.

The theatre’s management claimed that the Mai Kai’s parking lot could hold more than 3,000 cars, but the true number was closer to 500.

Though several times throughout the 1970’s there was talk of dividing the auditorium into a twin or more screens, the Mai Kai Theatre remained a single screen until it closed, in 1987, a year after the theatre was acquired by AMC. During the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, the Mai Kai Theatre was one of the more popular area venues to see “event” films like “Superman” or the original “Star Wars” trilogy, in large part due to its vast screen.

The Mai Kai Theatre was reopened in 1988 as the Omni Star Theatre, after close to half a million dollars was said to have been spent remodeling the former movie theater into a live performance venue. However, in less than two months after it opened, the Omni Star Theatre was closed down, due to its owner’s illegal activities.

In 1992, the Omni Star Theatre reopened as the George Burns Theatre, after a $1 million face lift, with the theatre’s namesake being present at the opening festivities. However, despite high hopes for the George Burns Theatre, the theatre was shuttered after a little more than a year in operation.

After sitting vacant for almost a decade, the George Burns Theatre was demolished in 2003 for new town homes and a Walgreens.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, Sean Doerr

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

SubtheatreUrban on March 22, 2004 at 11:31 pm

I managed to gain access (with permission) about a year before the theater was demo’d. It was really in excellent condition—no roof leaking or major deterioration—although that gaudy geometric theme was also carried into the carpeting, on the concession stands and elsewhere. There are a few shots of the concession area on another theater-documenting website. The red upholstered seats were in beautiful shape; hopefully some other theater group ended up with them. Also in the auditorium were cigar-shaped wall lights commemorating the trademark of the old comedian. The lobby had a few large wooden “cigar boxes” on the walls with quotes from Mr. Burns inside. Looking at it objectively, it really wasn’t anything too high-budget or fancy. However, there were many excellent artifacts lying around, including a box full of programs from one of the Burns’ final productions, original Mai Kai building plans, and an old film projector in the projection room. I have no idea what sort of fate befell these wonderful items. All in all, it looked as though with a bit of cleaning and patchwork here and there, the theater was all set for another opening of another show.

I did take quite a few pictures, and am hoping to get them posted somewhere in cyberspace soon. Hopefully Cinema Treasures will soon be accepting pictures again, as it would be nice to have one of the GBT on this page.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what it looked like inside as the Mai Kai, although I’ve been told it was quite fantastic with its Polynesian décor. People often reminisce about the animated “erupting” volcano that was formerly on the side of its marquee (apparently neon?), as well as another decorative volcano that was behind the concession stand. If you get a chance, check out the old Livonia Observer microfilm from April 1963 from at the local library. There are a few cool black and white ads for the Mai Kai’s grand opening which show the exterior of the building in all of its new (though newsprint-fuzzy) glory.

Oh, and one other somewhat interesting note: When they were in the process of tearing the theater down, if you looked in through the north / back side (i.e., in the general area where the screen once was), the blue curtain that had surrounded the orchestra pit was still visible. Apparently that’s just one of those things they don’t bother to remove before the wrecking machines arrive…

sdoerr on March 23, 2004 at 4:14 am

I wonder how the much the theater could have been bought for and used again, I think it would have worked this time. Wayne Theatre Corp. could have bought it and raised funds for the Historic Wayne Theatre(which I am a volunteer at btw). Sub feel free to send me your pictures to and I’ll upload them and link them here for you. Thanks for more info!

dwnrvrguy on September 27, 2004 at 3:32 pm

There are a few pictures of the Mai Kai facade and George Burns marquee on this site: View link

dmac on December 1, 2004 at 3:52 pm

If anyone has photos of either the Mai-Kai or the Terrace I would greatly appreciate it if you could send them to me at .com I am working on a photographic history of Livonia for a book to be published in 2005 and I would like to be able to use the best photographs available. Any and all help would be very welcome, and of course I would be happy to give appropriate credit for any photographs that are used. Many thanks.

JimRankin on January 6, 2005 at 3:23 pm

Information about the kindred Polynesian themed KON-TIKI theatre along with photos is found here:
Such a pity that both of these unique designs are lost to us, apparently with no photos of thier interiors at opening.

kak on May 7, 2005 at 9:11 pm

I remember the night the world premier of the movie “The War Lord” was shown at the Mai Kai. I was a member of the Franklin High School marching band, and we performed at the theater before the film. Charleton Heston and Rosemary Forsyth were there and spoke breifly just prior to showtime.

Cathie on June 2, 2007 at 3:53 am

Does anyone know the name of the play at the George Burns Theatre with Julie Harris?

scottymac on May 26, 2008 at 5:06 am

I am looking for any photos anyone might have of the mai kai, my father was an usher there and he took my mother there on a few dates.
If anyone has any ideas please email me at

JulieL on August 26, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Cathie—I believe it was Lettice and Lovage.

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