Michigan Theatre - Ann Arbor MI

Address: 603 E Liberty St
City: Ann Arbor
State: MI
Zip: 48104
County: Washtenaw
Open: 1928
Capacity: 1700
Owner History: Butterfield Theatres
Theater Type: Downtown Movie Palace
Number of visits to this page: 9176

Please note that location entries may feature older photos or post card views that may not represent the current appearance, features, addresses, phone numbers, or contact names of the attraction. This site is intended to be a historical as well as current record of various attractions but it is not always possible to have up-to-date information due to the vast number of locations featured here. We ask you consult the propietor for current information.

General Information:

Source: Michigans Historic Sites Online

Built in 1927 The Michigan Theater Building consists of a two-story row of seven street level shops with office space above, as well as a magnificent 1,827 seat movie theater. The structural shell is reinforced concrete and brick. The Theater portion contains a triple arcade with round, yellow terra cotta arches supported by slender moorish columns. The rest of the building is more sober with a rectangular facade.

The Michigan Theater Building is Ann Arbors only surviving theater from the silent picture and Vaudeville age. The Theater started performances with silent movies, concerts, touring theater companies, and Vaudeville performances. Jack Benny, Bing Crosby and Ethel Barrymore all performed at some point in the theaters history. The Barton Theater Organ designed for silent movie accompaniment remains intact. The rest of the building remains barely altered and continues to house offices and businesses.

From Cinema Treasures

This theater is a classic movie palace, opening on January 5, 1928 with seating for 1,841 and located near the University of Michigan.

During a recent restoration, the 1,700 seat Michigan Theater added a second 200 seat screen next to the main auditorium, and installed a new marquee to replace the older, 1950’s-era marquee (seen at right). This new marquee reveals much more of the theater’s facade, instead of hiding it. The theater retains its original Barton theater organ, installed in 1928.

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Info Updates:
1/6/2003 - Web
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MICHIGAN THEATER During the "roaring twenties" a successful immigrant businessman dreamed of building a grand vaudeville and movie palace in Ann Arbor. Angelo Poulos commissioned Detroit architect Maurice Finkel to design his dream. Finkel called it "a Shrine to Art. . . not built for today only, but constructed in the hopes that it might be a monument for years to come and a credit to the community even when the city is many times its present size." The W. S. Butterfield Company, which operated several motion picture and vaudeville theaters in the state of Michigan, managed the construction and furnishing of the Theaters interior. Dressing rooms, showers, and complete stage facilities accommodated live variety shows. The theater opened to the public on January 5, 1928. Until the summer of 1929, the usual program of events at the Michigan Theater included vaudeville entertainment and silent films with live musical accompaniment from the fabulous Barton organ and Karl Weiderholds eleven-piece orchestra. The introduction of "talkies" resulted in the disbanding of Karl Weiderholds orchestra, brought about the final demise of vaudeville, and marked the beginning of Hollywoods Golden Age. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Michigan Theater was Ann Arbors premiere showplace for live stage entertainment. National touring theater and opera companies, local community organizations and University of Michigan choristers and thespians regularly used the Michigan Theater stage. The largest audiences, however, came to see the movies, cinema classics like Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, Stagecoach, Bringing Up Baby, and The Sound Of Music. During the 1950s and 1960s, the increasing popularity of television reduced the size of the filmgoing audience In 1956 the Butterfield Theater Company decided to "modernize" the Michigan Theater in an attempt to entice people away from their TVs. The intricate plaster work was covered by aluminum, polished marble, and a false ceiling. Until just recently, the unrestored area of the balcony still displayed the bizarre color scheme: dingy blue, dull ivory, battleship gray, and orange. The elegant chandeliers, fountains, and decorative sconces were removed and the elegant facade were covered over with steel and glass. Restoration of the balcony was completed in September of 2001. Butterfield Hands over the Keys The advent of the multiplex cinema resulted in the commercial demise of many movie palaces, and the Butterfield Theater Company stopped operating the Michigan in 1979. Current Board President Henry Aldridge and the members of the Motor City Theater Organ Society fought to save the organ and the Theater from demolition or commercial development. With the help of philanthropist Margaret D. Towsley, they formed a not-for-profit corporation to preserve and operate the Theater. In 1982, the Board hired a professional management team headed by Russell B. Collins and later contracted with Richard Frank, an internationally renowned restoration architect and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, to prepare a rehabilitation plan for the building. After gathering broad community input, Mr. Frank and his architectural team devised a plan that called for a three-phase program of restoration and rehabilitation. Phase I culminated in April 1982 with a city-wide appeal for funds that raised $700,000 -- $500,000 to pay off the mortgage and $200,000 to make safety code improvements. In 1983, the Board and management team set about creating a program of events that would raise the Theaters community profile and help define its role as a cultural facility. An extensive series of classic films was presented almost daily. As in the theaters heyday, live stage presentations, including local concerts and theater productions and touring professional music concerts and Broadway shows, played on the Michigans stage. In 1985, the Board elected Mrs. Towsleys daughter, Judith Dow, as president of the organization. Under Ms. Dows leadership, the Theater undertook a capital campaign to fund Phase II of the buildings restoration. Ms. Dows husband, Robert Alexander, a successful fundraising professional, managed the campaign. The Grand Foyer and auditorium were restored, heating and electrical systems were modernized, and necessary backstage technical improvements were made. The Theater is currently engaged in a $6.2 million capital campaign to complete restoration of the façade, marquee, entrance lobby, balcony, and backstage areas. To date, over $5 million have been raised. In 1997, the owners of the nearby State Theater asked the management of the Michigan Theater to program and market the films in their two-screen theater. This partnership expanded the scope and range of the Michigan Theaters film programming capabilities. Presenting a diverse program of quality specialty film is the Michigan Theaters primary programming mission. To fulfill community expectations for this program, the management saw the opportunity to incorporate into architect Franks third capital improvement phase not only restoration, but expansion. The expansion includes a new screening room, concession area, restrooms, and office space. The screening room will allow the theater to expand upon the contemporary foreign, independent American and documentary films for which it is known by enabling it to secure films that require a run uninterrupted by evenings reserved for live events, to show popular films for longer runs, and to offer even more diverse films. Additional restrooms address complaints about the inadequacy, inconvenience, and inaccessibility of existing second-floor restrooms. The Michigan Theater continues to be an important part of Ann Arbors cultural fabric. Along with its role in presenting specialty films, is the home of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestras annual concert season and has been presenting the Not Just for Kids series of live-on-stage programs for children and families for a decade. The Michigan Theater remains "a Shrine to Art. . . and a credit to the community."
Michigan Theatre - July 9 2022 Photo
July 9 2022 Photo
Michigan Theatre - 2006 Photo From Dan Martin
2006 Photo From Dan Martin
Michigan Theatre - 2006 Photo From Dan Martin
2006 Photo From Dan Martin
Michigan Theatre - 2004 Night Shot
2004 Night Shot
Michigan Theatre - Old Marquee Shot
Old Marquee Shot
Michigan Theatre - Auditorium
Michigan Theatre - 2003 Shot
2003 Shot
Michigan Theatre - Old Marquee
Old Marquee
Michigan Theatre - Recent Pic
Recent Pic
Michigan Theatre - New Vertical Sign
New Vertical Sign
Michigan Theatre - New Vertical Sign
New Vertical Sign
Michigan Theatre - Old Pic From Kara Tilotson
Old Pic From Kara Tilotson
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