Gem Theatre

333 Madison Avenue,
Detroit, MI 48226

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Opened in 1928 as the Little Theatre, for a private womens group called the 20th Century Club, with a peformance of “Cyrano de Bergerac”, the Gem Theatre had a full stage, orchestra pit, and balcony which sat about 200 patrons. The exterior resembled a Florentine Renaissance palace, while the interior contained minimal decor.

Since its opening, the theater has had several name changes, first the Rivoli Theatre in 1932, then the Drury Lane Theatre and Europa Theatre in the next couple years, and finally in 1936, the Cinema, a name which stuck until the mid-1950’s, when the theater was screening foreign films. In 1959, as the Vanguard Theatre, the format was changed to stage shows, but by the mid-1960’s, decline had firmly set in, and as the Gem Art Theatr, became showing adult films. The theater closed in 1978.

Charles Forbes, who also owned the nearby State Theatre, purchased the Gem Theatre in 1991 and began an eighteen-month restoration, which brought the small house back to its original appearance. The Gem Theatre once again was home to live stage perfomances.

In 1997, the Gem Theatre made national news when the theater was lifted from its former foundation and moved about half a mile away from its original location to make way for the construction of the new Detroit Stadium. The move placed the Gem Theatre in the Guinness Book of World Records, as the heaviest building ever moved on wheels, at about five million pounds. It arrived at its new home at Madison and Brush as a crowd of several hundred cheered.

After a small restoration, the Gem Theatre reopened in late-1998.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 17 comments)

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on January 4, 2007 at 4:51 pm

Added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1985

Century Building and Little Theatre (added 1985 – Building – #85000993)
Also known as Century Club
333 Madison, Detroit
Historic Significance: Event, Architecture/Engineering
Architect, builder, or engineer: Mason,George D.
Architectural Style: Renaissance
Area of Significance: Architecture, Social History
Period of Significance: 1900-1924, 1925-1949
Owner: Private
Historic Function: Recreation And Culture, Social
Historic Sub-function: Meeting Hall, Theater
Current Function: Unknown

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 11, 2007 at 1:26 pm

This website has some photos of the Gem Theater.

DetroitDerek
DetroitDerek on January 15, 2008 at 6:25 am

Here is the sign at night:

View link

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on July 17, 2008 at 9:26 am

Two more photos can be seen here.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on August 10, 2008 at 4:14 pm

Recent interior photos can be seen here and here.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 26, 2009 at 12:40 pm

The Gem interior was in really bad shape before they restored it, correct?

kathy2trips
kathy2trips on December 5, 2009 at 10:09 pm

An exterior shot from the “bad old days”: View link

All the more amazing when you see the “before” pictures. If this doesn’t sell you on the notion of recycling historic buildings, I don’t know what will.

ERD
ERD on December 6, 2009 at 7:03 am

What a charming theatre! The restoration and move was well worth it. Kudos to all those who saved the Gem.

Patsy
Patsy on December 4, 2010 at 6:31 pm

I recently learned of this theatre and its monumental relocation! Congrats to those who saved it by moving it.

Matthew Prigge
Matthew Prigge on November 11, 2012 at 6:15 pm

If anyone has any stories about going to/ working at this threatre in its adult days, I would love to hear them. I am chronicling the histories of adult theatres in the US. Please contact me at Thanks!

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