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Norwest Theatre


Address: 17630 Grand River Ave
City: Detroit State: MI Zip: Phone:  
County: Wayne
Notes: AKA: Metro Norwest 1&2
Anyone interested in purchasing this theatre please contact Brian Vosburg at: bvosburg@grdc.org
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Open: 1936 Closed: 2000 Capacity: 1366    
Owner: United Detroit Theatres
Web Address: N/A
Number of visits to this page since Sept 2013: 9135
 
 

1/16/2016 - Mark Schmeling
Growing up in the 1960s I frequently went to a trio of theaters up and down Grand River Ave, from the Redford out on Lasher, to the Great Lakes, east of Greenfield. But the Norwest was the main venue of movie going as I lived south of this theater on Longacre. It was a double feature house then, with the occasional Neighborhood Premiere single attraction, such as Ben-Hur or Dr. Zhivago. There were silver dollar give aways in the summer with the right movie stub number, and snow cones at the concession stand.

After the remodeling in '61 (?) they added a waiting room off of the newly paneled lobby with a television in it. That struck me as odd, for even as a 9 or 10 year old I knew that movie releases in theaters were losing out to more and more television watching, so was it a case of - if you can't beat them, join them? Across Grand River at the south-west corner of Longacre, there was a shoe store called Hansel & Gretel, and they had some how been given miniature highway billboards of current movies playing in and around Detroit. These billboards were scale for a Lionel train landscape and were engraved with United Detroit Theaters.

8/10/2015 - Janet
Norwest Theatre was my first job behind the concession stand in 1975. I was 15. My second was on the corner Grand River/Fenkell/Southfield Shell. I have great memories of the area that have stayed with me for a lifetime. The sister Theatre Mercury was my mothers first job.

6/7/2014 - Ricardo
In 1970 when I was seven I saw my first movie at the norwest and it was the sound of music with Julie Andrews on a school field trip, I lived on mark twain between Intervale and Lyndon and as a young child I've seen several movies at the norwest some with my parents and as I got into my teenage years with my friends. We would walk or ride our bikes but mostly walk, I've seen at the Norwest smokey and the bandit, let's do it again, sparkle, eat my dust, food of the gods,blood of the dragon, breakin', beatstreet, Halloween, ect. But the very last movie I saw there was dead presidents in 1995. I've watch the area become crime ridden and it wasn't safe to even park in the parking lot. As Detroit police officer I've made several arrests in and around the norwest for various offenses one day while working I received a police run at the norwest after it was closed for good about someone inside stripping the building, when I arrived I found the rear door open and there was mold everywhere so I checked the basement and there was several feet of water down there but I found no one inside.

I've since retired from the Detroit police department in June of 2013 and has since moved to Texas but my earlier memories of the norwest still make me smile.
7/18/2012 - Tony Winters
Where do I begin? My family moved to the Harlow and Puritan in the early 70s. I was about 12 or 13 years old. My love affair with movies had begun a few years earlier by watching Bill Kennedy, Rita Bell and even Sir Graves Ghastly. As I reached adolescence, Blaxsploitation and Kung Fu flicks were all the rage so my friends and I would catch buses to downtown Detroit or over to the Mercury and watch triple features. Sometimes I'd go to the show as we called it then, alone and the Norwest was one of my favorites.

Perhaps because it was in walking distance, it was clean, affordable and safe. Usually, one of the older kids from the neighborhood worked there and I would never having a problem getting in because I knew someone. LOL! THE GODFATHER and JOHNNY TOUGH are just two of the titles of the many I've long since forgotten that were seen at The Norwest. During my senior year at nearby Redford High School, in my business law class, we were given an assignment.

It was The (blank) and How the Law Regulates It. At the time, I was becoming a bit of a cinefile but I just didn't know it. I decided to fill in the blank with 'Theater' and made my way over to The Norwest and met Robert Bob Sloan. As I told him of my assignment and asked for a little of his time, he must had been somewhat impressed because he offered me a job, as a ticket taker, usher, right there on the spot and I accepted.

I worked there from the fall of 78 to the summer of 79, the year I graduated from high school. It was fantastic! We screened THE WIZ, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ and a dozens others during my brief tenure. The theater staff was pretty multi ethnic. The theater manager's name was Gary and he was of Arab decent.

The projectionists name was Lloyd and he looked like Jimmy Durante! He once invited me and my then girlfriend to a private screening of THE ONION FIELD with James Woods at the corporate offices. The other names have long since faded with time but I do remember a cute white girl (I'm black, unusual at that time in Detroit) that I would make out with behind the screen. LOL! The girls that worked at the concession stand and in the ticket booth became my prey as well. LOL! Perhaps because of the time I spent with my afternoon movie hosts and at The Norwest, I began to take the study of acting and film quite seriously.

So after a brief stint in college, I moved to Los Angeles and became a tour guide at Universal Studios. Over the last 30 years, I've acted in live theater, television shows and movies. I've even written a few and managed to produce them on a low budget. My dream had always been that my name would roll in the credits of a film playing at The Norwest.

It may have happened but I have no record of it. Thank for allowing me to share my memories of the late, great Norwest Theater.
3/22/2011 - Russ Smith
the Norwest was my neighborhood theater when my family moved to grandmont in 1969. enjoyed the theater a lot, one of the last free standing in Detroit. Most memorable movie: Tora, Tora, Tora and a close second was Kentucky Fried Movie. Was sorry to see it go, glad to see the pix to reflect on.

9/12/2004 - Unknown
Talk about just in the nick of time. I was driving on Grand River last week and discovered that they finally were about to tear down the old Norwest Theater, as had been threatened for a long time. I went back there on what happened to be the day before demolition began, and got a chance to explore it. The small, Art Deco Norwest Theater opened on Grand River, near Greenfield, in 1936. Designed by architect Hector Payne, who also designed the Varsity Theater on Livernois the same year, it was a first-run movie house that could seat almost 1,400 people.

By late-1978 the theater had downgraded to showing what owner Robert Sloan referred to as ethnic pictures pictures that appeal to a black audience. One of the last double features at the theater before it closed was Disco Feverand Monkey Hu$tle. Prior to that the feature had been The Devil Times Fiveand Creature from the Black Lake. But increasing crime in the area kept moviegoers away.

The Coney Oneys gang kept spray-painting their tags all over the outside of the theater, not a welcome sight for jittery movie fans. Citing declining ticket sales, Sloan, who operated a number of theaters in the metro area, including the Ren Cen in the Renaissance Center, the Abbey in Madison Heights, the Beacon East in Harper Woods and the Maple in Birmingham, closed the Norwest early in 1979. Residents, businesses, and churches in surrounding neighborhoods like Rosedale Park, Grandmont, and Crary-St. Marys protested the closure, and three months of pressure resulted in Sloan reopening the theater as a second-run movie house, showing stale movies a couple years after their debut.

It charged $1 admission, less than the standard $1. 25 or $1. 50 at other similar second-run area theaters in the suburbs. The 1,400-seat theater was far larger than the typical theater of the day, which seated, on average, about 400 patrons.

By the mid-80s the Norwest was split into two separate screening rooms, showing first-run movies again at a bargain price for that time - children, students and seniors paid $3 dollars. The price for all others was $5 after 7:30 p. m. Features were shown seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The theater had an advertising budget as large as any major movie theater. The Norwest was the center of more trouble in 1997, when it was sued for banning children under 6 years old in the evenings. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission ruled in favor of the parents who sued, but a Wayne County Circuit Court judge decided that the theater was within its rights to do so. But the end was near, hastened by persistent crime in the neighborhood.

The parking lot for moviegoers was dark, tucked away behind the theater, forcing patrons to walk some distance across an alley to get to the ticket office. Razor wire and plexi-glass began appearing on businesses along Grand River. A nearby Rallys restaurant had become a constant robbery target. Patrons began expressing fears to theater staff about leaving the theater and walking to their cars at night.

Though nobody was ever harmed inside the theater, employees tried to keep the doors locked during business hours, admitting people only after they knocked. Sloan consistently refused to install metal detectors as some nearby suburban theaters had been forced to do in the wake of violent incidents. By 2000, the theater closed its doors for good, the last Detroit neighborhood theater to have shown first-run movies at a bargain price. On Sunday morning, I headed over to see what I could find.

I saw an open back door, with a hose running out to a nearby parking lot, pumping the seven feet of water out of the basement, and an iron wall ladder inside the door, leading up somewhere into the building. As I was fiddling with my tripod and camera someone began trying to bang their way out of one of the closed metal doors on the side of the theater. After several attempts at busting out of the rusty door, a demolition worker burst out, right in front of me. I figured Id try the friendly, direct approach before I tried breaking in, so I introduced myself and told him why I was there, and he said go right ahead, go in.

Then he pointed to his respirator. You might want something like this - theres mold all over the place in there. Theres mushrooms growing on the walls. I had a dust mask - better than nothing, I guess - and put it on and headed in.

The doors were all propped open now, allowing a degree of natural light into the building. I had tried to get in there a long time ago, when it was sealed like a fortress, and Im glad I didnt. The daylight revealed all sorts of frightening things inside. The demo worker wasnt kidding about the mold - it was everywhere, as was giant brown fungi growing out of some walls and door frames in one-inch clumps, stretched out in colonies seven feet long.

The odor in there was extremely dense and strong - it smelled like a concentrated fungus-mold potpourri. Over the past four years, the Norwest, basically a windowless box with water infiltration and no ventilation or light, became a super-fungus farm. The floor of one of the theaters was covered in a quarter-inch of some mysterious russet-colored powder mixed with water to create a paste, remnants of which are still all over my car rugs and apartment floors now. Various things Id touch were coated with some kind of sticky, mystery goo.

Upstairs, reels of film lay wrapped tightly on shelves, and old projectors remained pointed down towards the movie screens, as the light blue wall curtain of the theater shimmered in the slight breeze coming in through the open door. The concession stands still had employee rules posted, along with hundreds of plastic drink tops and cups. A couple of souvenir magnets from the movie Office Space remained on a door. Rolls of movie tickets sat in the front ticket booth.

Not much Art Deco detailing remained in the interior, if there ever was much, except a pattern on the ceiling, some detailing on the walls and the lettering above the restrooms. A day later, the demo crew made short work of it, knocking most of the Norwest down in a day, replacing the 68-year-old Art Deco theater with a spot for a future fast-food restaurant. Posted by: John / 8:59 AM.
9/11/2004 - Brian Vosburg
The Norwest sadly will be demolished. Worker should start the process Monday, August 23rd, 2004. In its place a Long John Silvers/A&W fast food restaurant will be built. Would have been nice to save, but Bob Sloan wanted the money instead of helping reuse a neighborhood landmark.

9/11/2004 - Detroit Free Press
36, closed since 2000, is demolished August 26, 2004 BY MARSHA LOW FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER Below the turquoise sign that juts toward the sky, a mangled mass of metal is all that remains of northwest Detroits Norwest Theater. Across the street, Barnard Gill watched as wrecking balls and bulldozers smashed the art deco movie house to the ground. He shook his head as another piece of his childhood disappeared in the back of a dump truck. Standing on Grand River, Gill, 42, returned to the days when he was just 13 years old. Summers were spent mowing lawns and saving wisely so he could hop a bus on Saturdays and meet his friends at the Norwest.

There hed treat himself to a box of Raisinets, a bag of red licorice and an ice cold Pepsi. Then hed settle into the burgundy velvet seats, ready for the show, feeling so grown up sitting in the theater without his parents. Im bummed to see it come down, said Gill, a lifelong Detroiter. It was a very special place.

But as more film fans turn to home video or flock to multi-screen movie palaces, thousands of old theaters around the country have closed, some becoming vacant lots or shells for new businesses. Robert Sloan, owner of the Norwest, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday. But Cory Jacobson, owner of the neighborhood Phoenix Theaters in Detroit and Farmington Hills, said it is increasingly difficult for small movie houses to compete. There arent many of us left, and those that are left struggle, he said.

Its become a labor of love to run a neighborhood theater. In the spring of 2003, Brian Vosburg and his co-workers at Detroits Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp. began working to save the Norwest. The nonprofit agency renovates Detroit homes and playgrounds and restores the citys commercial buildings.

Vosburg talked to neighbors and asked architects to consider turning the building into a new business. There was no interest. The Norwest was the only original building left on Grand River from the 1920s and 1930s era when a lot of the commercial buildings were built, Vosburg said. The Norwest opened in 1936 as a single-screen theater seating 1,366 people.

It was a first-run movie house until it closed in 1978. The theater re-opened in 1979 as a second-run house until Sloan split the theater in the 80s, creating the double-screened Norwest 1&2. The theater closed in 2000. Demolition of the Norwest began Monday and is expected to continue into early next week.

Two fast food restaurants will soon join the other fast food chains already operating down the block. At Robinsons Main Event Barber & Beauty Shop Wednesday, Terrence Dawkins was getting a trim as the sound of the bulldozers hummed across the street. You used to be able to walk to get your groceries and walk for a movie, said Dawkins, 47, of Detroit. But every piece of good is being torn down for fast food and strip malls.

Its just disappointing.
1/15/2004 - Cinema Treasures
The Art Deco style Norwest opened in 1936, designed by Hector Payne, who also designed the Varsity the same year. The Norwest could seat 1366, and was a first run house until closing around 1978. In 1979, it was reopened as a bargain second-run house, by Robert Sloan, who also operated the sadly-demolished Art Deco Metro Mercury as well, which was located not far from the Norwest. At some point during the 80s, the theater was twinned, becoming the Norwest 1 & 2, with total seating reduced to about 1100. The Norwest 1 & 2 was closed in 2000.

Cinema Treasures Link.
12/16/2003 - Brian Vosburg
Place this theater on the endangered species list as well. Plans for the theater are demolition to make way for a Dunkin Dounuts type of fast food drive through. Anyone out there want to buy an Art Deco theater in a high demographic neighborhood? Please email me.
8/22/2003 - Jack Pickering
Original owner was United Detroit in 40s, then owned by Suburban Detroit. Remodeled in 60-61, then Bob Sloan purchased it from his dad who owned Suburban Detroit. Sloan made theater into a twin & then it closed.
Norwest Theatre - OUTDOOR SHOT
OUTDOOR SHOT
Norwest Theatre - OUTDOOR SHOT
OUTDOOR SHOT
Norwest Theatre - OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE LIBRARY
OLD PHOTO FROM WAYNE STATE LIBRARY
Norwest Theatre - NEWS ARTICLE
NEWS ARTICLE
Norwest Theatre - INDOOR SHOT FROM DETROIT BLOG
INDOOR SHOT FROM DETROIT BLOG

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