Michigan Theatre – Detroit, Michigan - Atlas Obscura

Michigan Theatre

Opulent downtown movie theater now houses cars as an indoor parking garage. 


Standing on the spot where Henry Ford opened his first workshop in 1892, the Michigan Theatre, once an incredibly opulent downtown institution, is now quite possibly the world’s most extravagant parking structure.

Thirty-four years after Ford’s first workshop opened, in 1926, Detroit was the center of the industrial world and the Michigan Theatre opened its doors. The seven-story, 4,000-seat theater was the largest in the city and one of the largest in the country at the time. The building’s construction cost $5 million (the equivalent of about $62 million in 2008), and it was designed by the architectural firm of Rapp & Rapp for a Detroit philanthropist and theater owner.

When the television entered most homes, the theater’s audience started to dwindle. Unable to compete with newly emerging suburban movie theaters, the lavish Michigan Theatre closed its doors in 1967 and was supposed to be demolished, but several people and companies stepped in to try and save it. Since, the theater has been used as a supper club, a concert venue and a porn cinema, but none of the new businesses proved successful.

Abandoned in 1975, Michigan Theatre was again slated for demolition, this time in 1977. When workers were investigating the building, they realized that the tower next to the building was structurally tied to the theater and plans were changed again. The shell of the building was kept to provide a secure indoor parking garage. The grand staircase of the theater was removed to make room for the curving parking ramp.

Even if you’ve never been to Detroit, you may recognize the building, which was featured in the movies “8 Mile” and “Preserve Me a Seat,” an independent film about efforts to preserve disappearing historical theaters across the country.

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October 24, 2009

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