Opening Night program


Opening Night program

In 1978 plans were announced to convert the theater into retail space. A nonprofit organization was formed to "preserve and restore the historic Michigan Theater for the benefit of the community and the arts." Through the efforts of volunteer organist Henry Aldridge and with the encouragement of Mayor Louis Belcher, the citizens of Ann Arbor decided to purchase the theater from the Poulos family. A restoration process begun in 1986 and completed in 2002 has brought the theater back to the glory of its beautiful movie palace origins.

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Image Courtesy of the Washtenaw County Historical Society



The Orpheum


The Orpheum

J. Fred Wuerth's Orpheum at 326 South Main Street was Ann Arbor's first theater built for movies, though it included vaudeville acts when it opened in 1913. In the next two years the Arcade opened on North University and the tiny Rae on West Huron. Wuerth then expanded his holdings by building a new business block next door to the Orpheum. His clothing shop was in the front with another movie theater—the Wuerth—across the rear, reached from Main Street by an arcade of small shops. The two theaters were at right angles to each other, sharing backstage space as well as one theater organ. When they both closed in 1957, the Orpheum was remodeled into a store and both buildings were covered with expanded metal mesh screening. The facade of the Orpheum (later Gratzi's restaurant) was renovated in 1985, but the original front of Wuerth's office building remained covered until 2005.

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Image Courtesy of the Washtenaw County Historical Society



The Majestic in 1930


The Majestic in 1930

The only early theater to survive the teens was the much larger Majestic, which opened on September 19, 1907, in a former roller-skating rink at 316 Maynard. Its large size, full stage, and campus location made it a great success. It was closed in 1940 when the State Theater was built. The Maynard parking structure now occupies the Majestic's former site.

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Image Courtesy of the Washtenaw County Historical Society



The Star Theater


The Star Theater

The Star was the site of a famous student riot in March 1908. Incensed at alleged mistreatment, more than 1,000 angry students stormed the theater and destroyed its facade. Several arrests were made, but the affair was soon smoothed over. The Star reopened a week later and lasted until 1919.

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Image Courtesy of the Washtenaw County Historical Society



A team of uniformed employees once ushered the audience to its seats.


A team of uniformed employees once ushered the audience to its seats.
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Image Courtesy of the Washtenaw County Historical Society



The Wuerth


The Wuerth

J. Fred Wuerth's Orpheum at 326 South Main Street was Ann Arbor's first theater built for movies, though it included vaudeville acts when it opened in 1913. In the next two years the Arcade opened on North University and the tiny Rae on West Huron. Wuerth then expanded his holdings by building a new business block next door to the Orpheum. His clothing shop was in the front with another movie theater—the Wuerth—across the rear, reached from Main Street by an arcade of small shops. The two theaters were at right angles to each other, sharing backstage space as well as one theater organ. When they both closed in 1957, the Orpheum was remodeled into a store and both buildings were covered with expanded metal mesh screening. The facade of the Orpheum (later Gratzi's restaurant) was renovated in 1985, but the original front of Wuerth's office building remained covered until 2005.

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Image Courtesy of the Washtenaw County Historical Society



Michigan Theater Building, 1927


Michigan Theater Building, 1927

519-609 East Liberty Street

Michigan Theater Building, 1927
Creator: Finkel, Maurice

The Michigan Theater Building was constructed in 1927 to house shops, offices, and a lavish theater with dressing rooms for performers. A red and gold Barton organ was installed to amplify the drama of silent films. Designed by architect Maurice Finkel of Detroit and built by Angelo Poulos of Ann Arbor in a Lombard Romanesque style, the complex consists of an 1800-seat auditorium and an office block of seven stores. When it opened January 5, 1928, the theater was the finest in Ann Arbor.

The facade's main section, a three-bay wide entry to the theater flanked by stores on either side, is complemented by the seven store fronts which are more simply constructed with a band of square-head double-hung windows topped by a continuous concrete lintel on the second floor. The stores immediately flanking the theater retain the arched window hoods of the theater itself. The original ornate marquee was replaced in 1945. An unfortunate remodeling in 1956 "modernized" the interior. The facade was refaced with black marble and imitation fieldstone trim. The Barton organ was restored in the early 70's by the Motor City Theater Organ Society, which sponsored occasional silent film and organ performances.

While celebrating its 50th anniversary, the owners announced they would no longer lease the theater. Plans to convert the interior to a shopping mall alerted citizens to the danger of losing the marvelous theater as well as the organ. After citizens voted support, the City of Ann Arbor purchased the theater in 1979. Six years later, a campaign to restore the Michigan Theater raised almost two million dollars. The entire lobby and auditorium portions of the theater were returned to their original glory. The theater is now a cultural and performing arts center, used by theater and other groups, the Ann Arbor Symphony, and for movies.

Go to the Michigan Theater web site...

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Photos used to illustrate Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, Michigan / by Marjorie Reade and Susan Wineberg.



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