The Michigan Theatre in Detroit

by Dan Austin

Was machst du? Wie Menschen weltweit arbeiten (Ausgabe II/2013)


When it opened in 1926, the Michigan Theatre had a capacity of over 4,000 seats. But in 1976, it was finally closed. Photo: Pieter Franken

“Where am I?” I think every time I walk into this place. It's surreal, as if two worlds collide. here, where stars like Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong or Glenn Miller were once cheered by thousands of people, it’s a car park today.

In 1926, the Michigan theatre was opened. Every evening. Films were shown, singers and dancers took to its stage. With its luxurious interior design, it soon became the most popular venue for events in the area. However, from the mid-1960s onwards many people moved out to the suburbs. New cinemas with a larger selection of films competed with the Michigan theatre. Then, in the 1970s rock concerts revitalised the theatre. Artists such as Aerosmith or David Bowie played under its magnificently decorated ceilings.

This left its mark - with smashed mirrors, graffiti on the walls and ripped seats. By the end of the 1970s the Michigan Theater was pretty devastated. The city government decided to tear it down and build a parking lot on the site. However, since the adjacent office complex would have been damaged, with typical American pragmatism it was decided that the three-story parking garage would be built into the theatre. Today, football fans meet in the underground car park to get in the mood for a game. To me, the Michigan Theater is a symbol of the rise and fall of Detroit. It is ironic that the theatre is located exactly where Henry Ford once had his first workshop.

As told to by Marianne Kühn
Translated by Jess Smee

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