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<< News >>

Local News / Entertainment

Friday, 16 March, 2007 10:13 PM

"Detroit: The Reel Story" will bring back memories for moviegoers

PHOTO by Michael Hauser, courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society.

The Fox Theatre in 1974 showed martial arts films.


by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

A new exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum highlights the past, present and future of going to the movies. You can see how the moviegoing experience has changed from the first movie theatre in 1906 to Michigan's first all-digital movie theatre in Shelby Township.

The first movie in Detroit was actually shown at the Detroit Opera House. However, the first movie theatre to open was The Casino, which was located on Monroe Street. That theatre was torn down. Most of downtown Detroit's movie theaters were located along Monroe Street or Grand Circus Park.

The exhibit is based on the book "Detroit's Downtown Movie Palaces," which was written by exhibit curator Michael Hauser.

"This exhibit takes a universal experience -- going to the movies -- and adds the elements that are uniquely Detroit to that story," said Robert Bury, executive director of the Detroit Historical Society.

"Detroit: The Reel Story" includes many artifacts from movie theatres in the past and present. You will see signs and banners from theatres, movie seats, usher uniforms, movie listings, film strips, 3-D glasses and photos of theatres. In addition, there is a seven-minute documentary about the history of the moviegoing experience in downtown Detroit.

The exhibit includes movie listings from newspapers as early as 1830 and as current as 1980. In 1830, you will notice all of the downtown movie palaces. About 150 years later, you can see that many of the downtown theatres have closed and suburban theatres have sprung up everywhere.

The most famous artifact in the exhibit is the door to Charles Howard Crane's office. Crane was famous for designing 50 theaters in Detroit including Adams Theatre, The United Artists Theatre, The Fox Theatre, Orchestra Hall, Detroit Opera House, among others.

"It seems to resonate with the market that remembers. It has shown appeal for all ages and brings the uniqueness of going to the movies to the public," said Bob Sadler, director of public relations at the Detroit Historical Museum. Sadler notes that the exhibit has brought in very strong attendance over the past month.

The movie going experience used to be very formal in downtown Detroit. The downtown theaters would receive first-run movies before they were sent to theatres in the suburbs. Ever since 1960, people have been moving out of the big city. Meanwhile, going to the movies has never been the same -- it was become a casual activity. People no longer dress up in suits and dresses as they used to.

The National Theatre is the only downtown theatre that was designed by famed architect Albert Kahn. He was known for designing many buildings in the Motor City including The Bonstelle Theatre, Belle Isle Aquarium, The GM Building, Detroit Police Headquarters, The Fisher Building and the First National Building, among others. It is ironic that the National Theatre is the only remaining downtown movie palace still standing.

The Michigan Theatre is another important movie palace. It was located at the intersection of Bagley and Grand River Ave. This movie theatre was turned into a private parking deck. You can still see the beautiful design of the theatre when parking in the structure.

Why did the Fox Theatre survive when others didn't? The Fox Theatre was originally built for motion picture mogul William Fox. Detroit's Fox is the second largest theatre in the country with a total of 5,045 seats. Originally, it was designed to show only Fox motion pictures. This technique became unprofitable and didn't last very long. Fox decided to open the theatre to movies from all production companies.

The Fox was still showing martial art films in the 1970s, according to Bob Sadler, director of public relations at the Historical Museum. In the 1980s, the Illitch family purchased the theatre and renovated it. The Fox re-opened in 1988 and became a popular venue for Broadway shows.

Suburban movie theaters began opening as early as the 1930s. The first theaters outside the city of Detroit were located in Wyandotte, Ecorse, Royal Oak and Washington Township. After suburban movie theaters opened their doors, less people were driving to the downtown movie palaces. Downtown theaters suffered and most of them began to close one by one.

Before the television was invented, people would get their news in a movie theatre. "Newsreels" would provide the news of the day before the feature presentation began. It was the first time that news was being shown in a visual way. Today's movies feature trailers of upcoming films and commercials. Just one more example of how movies have changed over time.

Michigan's first all-digital movie theatre is set to open at the end of this year or the beginning of 2008. It will be a Phoenix movie theatre located in Shelby Township. Filmmakers are pushing for more all-digital theatres. The equipment at an all-digital movie theatre is expected to cost $100,000.

"Detroit: The Reel Story" runs from now until February 3, 2008 at the Detroit Historical Museum. Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and students aged 5-17 and FREE for children under 4 and Detroit Historical Society members. All prices include admission. Tickets can be purchased at the museum.

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / AMERICAJR.com

Photos of downtown movie palaces are shown here within "Detroit: The Reel Story" at the Historical Museum.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / AMERICAJR.com

These uniforms were worn by ushers at Detroit's movie theatres in the past. We apologize for the glare in these photos.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / AMERICAJR.com

Usher uniforms have evolved into t-shirts and polo shirts. Today's movie theaters are casual attire.

 

Click here to see more photos from "Detroit: The Reel Story."

 

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