Gem Theatre

333 Madison Avenue,
Detroit, MI 48226

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Gem Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 12 comments)

ryan0290
ryan0290 on March 19, 2004 at 3:47 pm

The Shubert Theater in Minneapolis was actually the heaviest building moved. The Gem Theater is in the record books for the longest distance moved.

Guinness records:

Gem Theater

Shubert Theater

sdoerr
sdoerr on February 2, 2006 at 6:35 pm

Jimmy Kimmel has been utilizing the Gem as his taping locations while he is in for Super Bowl. He will be taping for a week.

i seen it yesterday, I liked the Detroit flavor of the opening and scenes. The musical guests performed on the Century Grille stage. They covered up the nice little arch with wood paneling.

johnlauter
johnlauter on April 1, 2006 at 3:52 am

The Gem looks so much better over on Madison since the move. It looks like it’s always been there. Chuck did the city a huge favor in saving the State, and Gem, and kept the Fox intact during his ownership.

melders
melders on May 10, 2006 at 3:43 am

The Gem was the heavist building moved at the time. The Shubert later supased that record.

DetroitDerek
DetroitDerek on January 15, 2008 at 2:25 pm

Here is the sign at night:

View link

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 26, 2009 at 7:40 pm

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

kathy2trips
kathy2trips on December 6, 2009 at 6:09 am

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 3:03 pm

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

Patsy
Patsy on December 5, 2010 at 2:31 am

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 12, 2012 at 2:15 am

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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