Duplex Theater

3075 East Grand Boulevard,
Detroit, MI 48202

Unfavorite 1 person favorited this theater

Duplex Theatre, Detroit, Michigan, 1916

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened in 1915 with two adjoining 750-seat auditoria, the Duplex Theater was one of the country’s first twin theaters and pre-dates the multiplex craze by nearly five decades.

It closed in 1922, but its place in exhibition history remains.

Contributed by Cinema Treasures

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on July 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm

A Goodyear Auto Service Center is listed at this address now.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 15, 2010 at 10:57 am

The Masters thesis of Lisa Maria DiChiera, titled “The Theater Designs of C. Howard Crane” (available from the Internet Archive here) includes an appendix with a list which the text says “…consists of theater commissions received by the office of C. Howard Crane, as recorded in Crane’s project inventory book from the Crane archives collection, which is in the possession of Louis Wiltse, architect, Clarkston, Michigan. Omitted from the list are project numbers of commissions in the inventory book which were not for theaters.”

Most of the entries consist only of the project number and the name of the project. Project #96 in the list is named “Cary Duplex.” I’ve searched the Internet to see if the name Cary is mentioned in Connection with the Duplex Theatre, but so far haven’t found it to be. Still, given that the list includes only theater projects, that it was an early Crane project (#96,) that “Duplex” was not a common theater name, and that C. Howard Crane was by 1915 an established theater architect in Detroit, it seems very likely that the listed item was this Duplex Theatre.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 30, 2011 at 8:09 am

My surmise that the Duplex Theatre was designed by C. Howard Crane was wrong. According to the February 12, 1916, issue of The Moving Picture World Fuller Claflin was the architect of the Duplex.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 30, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I’ve found a brief biography of architect Fuller Claflin in Volume 4 of History of Michigan, by Charles Moore, published in 1915. It doesn’t mention the Duplex Theatre, but the section dealing with his career as an architect up to 1915 is worth quoting in full, and this is as good a place as any to do so:

“Fuller Claflin, who was born at East Saginaw, now a part of the city of Saginaw, on January 29, 1872, was about nine years old when the family moved from Saginaw to Albion, and about four years later they all went out to California. His education was principally received in the public schools of Michigan and California. In 1890 he entered the office of a San Francisco architect, and architecture has been his study and practical work throughout his entire career. In 1892 he became a member of the firm of Wood and Lovell, San Francisco architects, who made a specialty of theatre construction. When that firm subsequently moved its headquarters to Chicago, Mr. Claflin was left in charge of all its Pacific coast business. In 1895 Mr. Claflin removed to New York city, and became a member of the firm of J. B. McElfatrick and Son, theatre architects, whose services were of national scope, extending to all states and cities. Mr. Claflin continued with that firm about five years, and eventually became a partner of E. C. Horn, a general contractor with offices in New York city. Together they built many theatres both as architects and contractors. Mr. Horn’s death terminated the partnership, but Mr. Claflin continued building theatres, and in 1909 established offices in Detroit. He has built theatres in many cities of the Union and in Canada, and has a very notable record in Michigan, made since he opened offices at Detroit. Among others in the last half dozen years he has built the Family, the Garrick, the Gayety, the New Empire and the Forest theatres in Detroit, and also erected the Gladmer Theatre at Lansing, which is one of the finest theatres of the state. Other theatres in many smaller cities have been constructed on plans drawn by Mr. Claflin, with the construction supervised from his office.”

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 30, 2011 at 6:47 pm

The book I cited in my previous comment also has a nice photo of Fuller Claflin (scroll up a bit in the Google Books scan.) You can also read the earlier parts of his biographical sketch, which covers the history of his family in North America. The Claflins were an interesting lot.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on January 4, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Thanks Joe,always like your stuff you get on.

Krawlspace
Krawlspace on January 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm

While doing research on the Duplex Theater in Detroit, I came across this item mentioned in the Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record of Jan 22, 1916, and the same ad in Moving Picture World Feb 12, 1916:

“C. Howard Crane, architect, Dime Bank building, will ask for bids on a new theater for the Boulevard Theater company at 1537 Gratiot avenue, to cost $50,000.”

I wonder if this is the Cary Duplex Joe mentioned? Subsequent research has provided no further info on that address or theater in Detroit. Perhaps the design was commissioned and therefore in Crane’s records, but never completed? The Mar 19, 1918 edition of The Moving Picture World mentions that Fuller Clafin had charge of the Duplex, and was trying to spin the bad news of the theater only using both auditoriums on weekends. If he had charge of the theater as opposed to H.M Payne (who was touted as a theater operator of high quality) by 1918, and the Duplex closed in 1922, perhaps the financial situation of the Boulevard Theater Co. was too shaky to complete the Crane design on Gratiot. Clafin might have invested too heavily on his own and was forced to take over the daily operations.

These are all just guesses of course, but the pieces seem to fit.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 12, 2012 at 10:01 am

I’ve rechecked the Crane project list in Ms. DiChiera’s thesis, and it looks like the Cary Duplex proposal dated from either 1912 or 1913. As project #96, it comes after the Comique Theatre (project #94,) opened in 1912, and before the Liberty Theatre (project #115,) which opened in 1913. Given the period, it wouldn’t have been the proposed theater on Gratiot Avenue announced in 1916.

Possibly the Cary Duplex project was an earlier proposal for a twin-auditorium theater that didn’t get built. The Duplex Theatre of 1915 was probably the project noted in this item from the September 5, 1914, issue of The Music Trade Review:

:“The Grand Boulevard Theater Co. which will build a picture theater on Grand boulevard, Detroit, has been incorporated for $100,000. The principal stockholders are Fuller Claflin, E. Henry Griffin, and Daniel H. Kerney.”
I don’t think that the Boulevard Theatre Company which was planning the 1916 project on Gratiot Avenue was the same outfit as the Grand Boulevard Theatre Company that built the Duplex. The Boulevard Theatre Company, which was headed by J. C. Ritter, operated the Boulevard Theatre, as well as the Rialto.

Krawlspace
Krawlspace on January 12, 2012 at 11:11 am

Nice work, Joe. I was thinking about checking the project #’s to see if they were in date order but somehow it slipped my mind amongst a pile of papers on my desk. With the bit from the Music Trade Review it seems that Claflin would have reason to take over in 1918 if the ship was indeed sinking and the $100K matches the advertisement for investors as well as the description in the Feb 12, 1916 Moving Picture World article.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm

In most cases when a theater building’s owners took over operation of the business, it was because they were unable to find any reliable operators willing to lease the house from them, so that probably was the case with the Duplex. A tremendous number of theaters were built in Detroit during the 1910s, so the city probably had too many seats for several years, despite its rapid population growth.

This must have been true for the Duplex, which had to compete not only with other neighborhood theaters such as the Norwood, opened the same year, but with the Regent, a larger and more palatial house that opened nearby on Woodward Avenue in 1916.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater