The Michigan Theatre was a 4,000 seat theater and movie palace designed by renowned architects Cornelius and George Rapp. It was created in the French Renaissance style, which is characterized by a return to elements from antiquity, including columns, aedicules, and ornamentation with precise geometric symmetry. It was built at 220 Bagley in 1926 and opened its doors on August 23rd with the film “You Never Know Women.” The sheer majesty of the building’s interior made it a popular destination for locals and travelers, filling nearly 4,000 tickets per show. It was described by theater Tycoon John H. Kunsky as “Not merely a theatre for Detroit,” but “A theatre for the whole world.”
During its period of great success, between 1926 and 1940, it played brought the most famous films to audiences in the midwest. “Its mezzanine level was reserved for black-tie invited guests and had gilded foyers, subdued lighting, and was decorated with paintings.”(). Visitors were constantly surrounded by art, making the theatre seem as much like a museum as a movie palace.
The auditorium contained 10-foot crystal chandeliers and featured a Wurlitzer organ in the orchestra pit, where the Michigan Symphony Orchestra played music for silent films. While many famed performers including Frank Sinatra, Glen Miller, and Benny Goodman graced the theater stage, by the late 1940s it was used for movies only.
In the decades that followed, the Michigan Theatre declined. In 1952, the marquee was removed, and 1955, the Wurlitzer organ was sold to Fred Hermes, of Racine, Wisconsin. As television became more popular and theaters were built in the suburbs, the Michigan became less profitable and officially closed in 1970, after several attempts by subsequent owners to keep it open. In 1977, it was converted into a parking garage and today stands in ruins.