|Location||118 Monroe St., Detroit, Mich.|
The National Theatre is the oldest extant theatre in Detroit, and is located in Detroit’s Monroe Block historic district. Today, it is the last remaining of the original vaudeville theaters in the city. The City of Detroit Planning and Development Department noted that in its hayday it was "one of the showiest buildings in the downtown area."
Dan Austin has stated that Albert Kahn and Ernest Wilby designed the theatre and it opened on September 16, 1911. David Kohrman dates the building to 1912. For Kohrman, the theatre’s decline was part of a larger trend in which “the social center of the city slowly shifted northward.” During the 1920‘s and 30‘s the entertainment industry was in a period of rapid change. As vaudeville died out, the National Theatre began showing films and unfortunately, by the 1940‘s, it could not compete with other movie theaters in the city. In the 1940's it resorted to burlesque shows with a live orchestra. It declined even further and in the 1970s began showing X-rated adult films. By 1975, most of the businesses in the area were gone.
In 1998, 2000, and 2008 Preservation Wayne went into the National for cleanup.
In January 2013, Kirk Pinho reported that Dan Gilbert had purchased a large portion of the Monroe Avenue Historic District. In September, Jim Marusich of the city of Detroit took back control of the National Theatre after the developer who had bought it approximately ten years prior failed to renovate it.
One month later, Jim Ketai, a managing partner in Gilbert's Bedrock Real Estate Services said that the block containing the National Theatre would probably be converted to a residential building, though he would like to save some of the exotic-looking facade if possible.
Dan Austin describes the National's facade as "a Baroque-Moorish-Beaux-Arts hybrid with a Moroccan or Egyptian flavor. Like Kahn’s earlier Grinnell Brothers Music House (built in 1908), the National is covered in white terra cotta fired at Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery," and the interior “was simple yet graceful with a high, square proscenium.” The regal architecture was rounded out “by a massive arched window, flanking towers with gold domes, and two watchful eagles,” according to Kohrman.
The National Theatre is currently vacant and has been so since 1975. Though it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the National still lacks historic designation from the city, and is thus at risk for demolition. Dan Austin wrote that the National was not only the last burlesque theatre in the city, but the last extant building of the entire original theatre district, and the last surviving Albert Kahn theatre in the nation. As David Kohrman said, the National “is one of the most beautiful and significant buildings downtown.”