Bonstelle Theatre - Detroit MI

Address: 3424 Woodward Ave
City: Detroit
State: MI
Zip: 48201
County: Wayne
Open: 1925
Capacity: 1200
Owner History:
Theater Type: Neighborhood House
Number of visits to this page: 4781

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General Information:

AKA: Detroit Civic, Mayfair, Wayne University Theatre

Source: Cinema Treasures

What is now known as the Bonstelle Theatre has had a long and varied life. It was first built in 1902, as Temple Beth-El, whose congregation moved from their previous long-time location on Cadillac Square after that space, above a drugstore, was outgrown. The space was constructed in grandiose neo-classical style, imitating the Pantheon in Rome, complete with a large dome and pedimented and colonaded facade, the synagogue was as ornate inside as out, with marble floors, gilding everywhere and intricate mosaic work. It was, until the 20s, the largest Jewish house of worship in Detroit.

After the congregation left the temple for a new home in the 20s, Beth El was purchased by actress and theater company manager Jessie Bonstelle. Bonstelle had first begun managing her company in Syracuse, New York at age 19, and had, since 1910, leased the Garrick Theatre in Detroit. She hired noted theater architect C. Howard Crane to remodel the former synagogue as the Bonstelle Playhouse, in 1925. Seating was increased to 1200 and a stage built. The facade was simplified by the removal of the columns and its round stained-glass windows covered by a new terra cotta facade.

In 1928, it was renamed the Detroit Civic Theatre. Miss Bonstelle died in 1932, and her theater company sold the building. It reopened a year later as a movie house, now called the Mayfair. After nearly two decades showing first-run films, the Mayfair returned to legitimate theater in 1951 after it was acquired for the drama department of Wayne State University. It was renamed the Wayne State University Theatre. Still part of the University to this day, it has since been restored and renamed the Bonstelle Theatre, in honor of its founder. It continues to shine as a venue for the best in live performances from Shakespeare to musicals. Lily Tomlin and Tom Skerritt are among those to have gotten their acting starts at the Bonstelle.

Info Updates:
12/26/2005 - Reid Johnson
Strictly speaking the columns were enclosed, not removed. The now enclosed columns, and the steps up to the box office and lobby, were on the outside at first. The entry to the building was at the top of the steps. The steps were then enclosed with the doors added at sidewalk level. The squared walls that enclose the steps are built around the still existing columns. I dont know if this occurred with the conversion for Jessie Bonstelle, or later as the Mayfair. I believe it was in this state when Wayne State moved in. In the 70s, at least one column, as well as the portion of the steps that ended up within the squared walls, could be seen through a small door up near the projection/follow spot booth. The view was from up high, looking down into the cavity. There was also, at some point, a long awning (covered walk) that led up from the narrow 2-lane Woodward to the steps for entry in less than good weather. When Woodward was widened the awning and all of the space in front disappeared.
Bonstelle Theatre - Old Photo From Wayne State Library
Old Photo From Wayne State Library
Bonstelle Theatre - A Recent Pic
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