Tag Archives: Historic Theatre

Flint: We’re still here…

15 Aug

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We’re in Flint MI for the Be A Tourist In Your Home Town event.  There’s still a ton of stuff to see and do, we better get moving…

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The Capitol Theatre opened in 1928 as a venue for live Vaudeville performances. It became a movie palace then a rock venue hosting concerts like Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Green Day, it closed in 1996. The building was purchased by Uptown Reinvestment Corp and The Whiting; after a complete $37 million dollar restoration the theatre is once again hosting live music, comedy, film, dance, and it’s on today’s tour. The exterior is definitely unique, they call it Hispano-Italian style, I call it gorgeous! The terracotta form work along the top of the building is exquisite, molds were made from the existing pieces and meticulously replicated, I can’t tell the original from the new. The original ‘Capitol” blade sign and marquee were restored, I bet it looks super-cool at night. Just inside the front doors lies the outer lobby, a geometric maze of plaster painted in gold, burgundy and purple hints at what we’ll find inside. In the lobby the ceiling arches up, rosettes fill coffers, everything is trimmed out in gold. Heavily textured walls are parchment colored, the original light fixture seems small for the space, stairways lead off to the sides. We make a slight detour exiting through a side door into a long hall. Almost everything except the floor has been updated, this section is home to concessions and ticket sales.

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Now we make our entrance into the grand auditorium itself; it’s stunning. At first we’re in an area with a low ceiling, we’re actually under the balcony, the plaster work is spectacular, really chunky and with great depth. Our guide points out an original section of ceiling they left untouched during the restoration, you can see how they matched the original colors and took them up a notch, I love that they left that. Walking deeper into the theatre we have a clear view of it in its entirety, this is what they call an Atmospheric Theatre, this one is made to look like a Roman Piazza, some make-believe village in Italy. I don’t know where to look first so I start at the top. A lovely blue glow illuminates the night sky of the domed ceiling, stars twinkle in the twilight, if you look closely you can pick out constellations. My eyes travel down from there, row after row of ornate molding surrounds the stage, the proscenium arch is richly detailed. Ornate plaster is everywhere, lots of leaves, scrolls, faces. Looking at the sides gives me the feeling of being in a tiny village, lower block walls give way to mock structures with doorways, gates, windows, balconies; no two are the same. The light fixtures and sconces are opulent, all of them original and re-worked for l.e.d. bulbs. 

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The group is invited onto the stage, it has perfect sight lines to get the entire atmospheric effect, wow! Some in our group talk among themselves, I overhear them telling others about how they used to come here in their youth, others are seeing it for the first time. The rigging and lighting systems have all been updated with state-of-the art technology. Because the stage area is small, large productions such as musicals are held at The Whiting. Descending from the stage we make our way across the main floor and up the stairs to the balcony, everybody spreads out, some sit while others are busy taking photos. From here we have a completely different view of things, now it’s like we’re right in the village; I feel like I could walk through the gate or sit on one of the balconies. It took 14 months to complete the restoration, the theatre officially opened in June.

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The street level of the Capitol Theatre building is home to new businesses Shift and Floradora share a space. The boutique sells eclectic items for the home, jewelry, gifts, fun accessories and clothing; I like the funky decor. Floradora is an extension of the shops main space in the Flint Farmer’s Market. Pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers or place a custom order for that special occasion. It’s great to see new retail coming into the downtown area, shops like these really attract foot traffic to the area. Now you can shop, eat and grab a coffee or cocktail in a walkable district.

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Alley Fest is taking place in the Buckham and Brush alley’s between 1st and 2nd streets, all we have to do is follow the sound of the music. Strings of lights zig zag between buildings, artists display their wares under canopy’s, pastel portraits of iconic stars are painted on the wall. The free festival is just getting started so it’s not too crowded yet. We check out clever t-shirts, painted skateboards, large canvases and metal jewelry. A crowd has gathered in front of the band at the far stage. The festival focuses on all things Flint from the bands to the artists. There are lots of things with the image of the water tower, it gives me chills.

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A steel door is propped open, people go in and out, I want to see what’s inside. Near the door a dog lays comfortably in his bed, beyond him a set of shelves hold men’s shoes and boots, we’re inside Sutorial Boot and Shoe Makers. This place is way cool, old industrial sewing machines are put to use creating custom hand-made shoes and boots for clients. Cut-outs of soles and forms lay scattered about, the owner is talking to a group of curious people like us. There’s barely room to walk in the space that serves as showplace and workspace. It’s nice to see things being done the old-fashioned way.

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We’ve covered everything in the downtown area, we’re ready to move on a little further. As we drive over to Grand Traverse Street I read a piece of graffiti on a wall that says “The world is a dangerous place to live. Not because of the evil but because of the people who do nothing about it.” The people of Flint know that all to well. Time to kick back and have a beer. Tenacity Brewing occupies a beautifully renovated brown brick building that used to be a firehouse; food trucks are parked out back, hops grow on the patio. The interior is casual, low-key, comfortable. Unique little gathering spaces are tucked away here and there, clear growlers turned into pendant lights hang above the L-shaped bar. Unable to choose one or two to share we do a flight of six; they also have cold brewed coffee and root beer on tap. We drink hard cider, stout, a smoky porter and ale, a really good variety. The stout is my favorite, Kris’s is the Honey Blu Blu Cider. By the amount of pewter mugs filling the shelves behind the bar I’d say they have a loyal following. Here’s what it says on their website: “The story is quite simple. A few of us who happen to like beer and love Flint got together and decided that our town needs a brewery. So we went to work creating one. Keeping with the resolve and determination of Flint despite its ups and downs, and because we knew opening a brewery would not be easy, we named it Tenacity Brewing.” These are the kind of people who make a difference, they change a city, change perceptions, change minds. I hope you’ll make your way to Flint soon and see all the good things happening for yourself.    

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DETROIT: The Fillmore

25 Mar

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Picture this: Detroit, 1928, Saturday night. You are dressed up, walking down Woodward Ave with a group of friends to see a movie; theaters seem to line the streets, marquees are dazzling. You pass the newly opened Fox Theatre followed by the State, entering Grand Circus Park, the Madison, Wilson, Capitol, Adams, United Artist and Michigan Theatres all compete for your 35 cents, the cost of a ticket. For that 35 cents you will see a newsreel, a cartoon and feature film, if you’re lucky, you may even see a Vaudeville show. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton dominate the big screens, Disney’s Steamboat Willie premiers, making the official introduction  of Mickey Mouse, Janet Gaynor stars in Street Angel, for which she will win the Oscar for Best Actress, Greta Garbo stars in the Divine Woman. The smallest of these theatres, the Adams, seats 1,770, the largest, the Fox seats 5,041, that’s a lot of popcorn!

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Our deep affection for 20th Century architecture is clearly evident in the photos alone contained in DetroitDvotion. The ultimate objects of our affection are old theatres; the designs drip with the ornate, indulge in fantasy. We are taken to far away places that may or may not exist. Every day folks were surrounded by beauty and fine things: enormous chandeliers, marble columns, murals, grand staircases; the reality of daily life shelved for a few hours. Today we are joining Preservation Detroit for a tour of the State Theatre, now known as the Fillmore; designed by C Howard Crane, who also designed the Adams, Detroit Opera House, Madison, Orchestra Hall, Fox, United Artist, Garden Theatre, Majestic, Bonstelle and Olympia Stadium, thank you Mr Crane. The State opened in 1925 with 2,967 seats. At the time of its opening, the State was one of America’s grandest film palaces featuring oversized chandeliers, paired ionic columns, rich draperies and an elaborate ceiling dome. The theatre operated continuously from 1925-1981, in 1937 the name was changed to Palms-State, then The Palms in 1949. Thankfully, Charles Forbes, a pioneer of Detroit historic preservation purchased the building in 1979, (He also saved the Fox, Gem, Century, Colony Club and Elwood Grill)  it re-opened as the State once again in 1983

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Our tour begins in the lobby of the Palms Building, it was common in those days for a theatre to adjoin an office building, that way if the theatre did not succeed, the office building covered the expenses of the building. This section was modernized in 1960, a few original Beaux-Arts touches remain such as the gorgeous elevator doors, one elevator is still original too. We make our way through the State Bar into the outer lobby of the theatre, here the ceiling is coffered, burgundy, green and gold cover the walls and plaster details, gold leaf adds pizzazz. Moving toward the auditorium, a beautiful, curving, marble staircase leads to the mezzanine level, above it the entire ceiling is an oval medallion of design. We ascend the staircase and find ourselves in the inner lobby, a barrel-vaulted ceiling rises overhead, the original 1925 chandeliers are aglow, walls are decorated in high detail from top to bottom, giant mirrors reflect beautiful images, original sconces cling to the walls. On ground level side exit doors are stained glass framed in dark wood, at this moment they are lit up by afternoon sun.

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We proceed into the auditorium itself, walking all the way to the front of the house and onto the stage, the uninterrupted view spectacular. There are three levels, the main floor has been converted to cabaret-style seating as has the mezzanine level, the balcony retains theatre seating. At first my eyes are drawn all the way up to the dome ceiling, it feels stately and serious, further down the walls semi-circular grates rest upon pairs of columns, below that are more archways. A scallop design defines the mezzanine level it appears as if individual box seats fill this level, the facade highly decorated; we get a sense of the immense seating arrangement.  From this position we are in close proximity to the knights decked out in full armor guarding stage right and left, they appear at the ready if the need arises. We make our way back to the Main Floor, walking toward the back we turn and face the stage to take in the proscenium, it’s spectacular, the green and gold color scheme carries over into the theatre, an eagle rests on the highest peak. From here we notice huge stained glass ceiling panels, the off-white glass pieces are embellished with a spider web design, high on the walls grates are backlit in red, the original organ pipes are still tucked away in these walls. As we make our exit we take notice of the framed rock and roll posters clinging to the walls, fitting now that Live Nation leases the theatre.

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Back in the State Bar & Grill the last group begins their tour, leaving plenty of open tables, we choose one near the front windows and order lunch. The State Bar opened in 2000 and features rescued architectural remnants from Detroit landmarks such as Downtown Hudson’s and an eastside church, the space is quite attractive. Directly across the street is Comerica Park, I imagine this place is pretty busy on a game day. We order the Spicy Western Burger; a half-pound burger topped with BBQ sauce, deep-fried jalapenos, pepper-jack cheese and onion rings, served with a pile of homemade chips, we split the burger and an order of cheese sticks, yum! There was more than enough food for the two of us. It has been another great afternoon in the D, we walk away from the building with a feeling of contentment. The building has withstood the test of time, for the last 90 years people have been entertained in this theatre, the current tenants have been thoughtful caretakers of this palace, we appreciate that.

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DETROIT: Music Hall !

3 Mar

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It isn’t often we spend a Tuesday evening out on the town, tonight is special. We have tickets to see Guitar Passions at Music Hall, we are making an evening of it starting with dinner at the Detroit Seafood Market on Randolph. We park in a lot that gives us access to both Madison and Randolph, $5 and we’re good for the night. This is the Paradise Valley district, historic buildings line the streets, old-fashioned looking street lamps light our way. Inside, people have just begun filtering in, taking a seat at the bar or high-top table. We are led across the room to a private booth, curtains are open and drawn to the sides. Floor and ceiling are warm shades of wood, funky shaped booths and small tables fill the space. Contemporary in style, the colors have warm undertones, an underwater mural covers the back wall. The menu is packed with fresh fish and seafood, we dig into warm bread as we wait for our meal to arrive. Our waiter is friendly and attentive, he arrives with our food and it looks delicious. I first try a forkful of Chef Leonardo’s famous lobster mac & cheese; piled high with toasted bread crumbs, inside it is cheesy, noodles are cooked just right with tasty chunks of lobster nestled throughout. The blackened salmon with sweet chili sauce is served with jasmine rice and sautéed vegetables. We like the seasoning on the fish, the vegetables are tender and buttery tasting. We are sharing both dishes, it makes for a great combination. Kris and I bundle ourselves up, Music Hall is right around the corner, we brave the cold and walk there.

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In 1928 Matilda Dodge Wilson opened the Wilson Theatre. She hired William Kapp of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls to design the building; it was to be used for legitimate theatre and touring Broadway productions, total cost was $1.5 million dollars. Eventually the Wilson began showing motion pictures, Gone with the Wind premiered at the The Wilson in January 1940. In the mid 1940’s the Detroit Symphony Orchestra wanted its own hall, choosing The Wilson, the name was changed to Music Hall in 1946. In 1951 a new trend was sweeping the nation, Cinerama. Detroit was a huge market back then, it was the second city in the United states to have a Cinerama, New York was first, Hollywood CA was third. Alterations were made to the building, a deeply curved wide screen was installed by Cinerama engineers, at that time the cost of a movie was 95 cents, Cinerama cost $2.80; you had reserved seating and printed programs. From 1971 to 1984 Michigan Opera Theatre used the building. In 1991 a decision was made, Music Hall would be restored to its original condition. Craftsmen and artists from all over arrived on the scene, 6 stories of scaffolding filled the auditorium, the decorative ceiling was cleaned and repainted, seats were repaired and restored, in 1995 Music Hall once again opened its doors.

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The Art Deco exterior is orange and tan brick, large stone pillars are capped with traditional theatrical masks made of terracotta. Beautiful wood and glass doors grant us entry to the foyer and box office, a second set of doors leads us to the lobby. The area is surprisingly small, light-colored stone surrounds the space, chandeliers are grand, carved figures wrap the capitols of columns, exit signs are framed in brass, a portrait of Mrs. Wilson hangs prominently. From here you can either go up into the theatre or as we do, down five steps to the Jazz Cafe. Taking a seat at a table we are afforded a wonderful view of the room; walls and ceiling are cream and yellow, elegant designs painted in red and black decorate the room, Moorish arches give visitors a view into the lobby. While other patrons are finishing their cocktails, we take the stairs to the main floor of the theatre–this is one of our favorite places to see a performance, as a matter of fact we were at that very first show when Music Hall re-opened in 1995. It is as fabulous today as it was then.

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After finding our seats Kris wanders about taking photos, I sit with my head tilted back admiring the stepped ceiling beams slathered in gold leaf and colorful designs. The grand curtain hangs elegantly across the stage, the main ceiling is a series of turquoise rectangles, the back of the house is finished in walnut panels. There is one box on each side of the stage–definitely the best seats in the house; open Moorish arches are fitted with a wrought iron railing, look closely to see the W T (Wilson Theatre), a crescent wrench is formed from the T, a tribute to Matilda’s first husband John Dodge. Pendant-like fixtures hang to the side 12 lights wide, they are stunning. The lights flash, the show is about to begin.

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Tonight we are seeing Guitar Passions, three master guitarists playing Latin, Brazilian and Jazz selections, we are very fond of this type of music. The musicians are 3-time Grammy winner Sharon Isbin, guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan and Brazil’s leading guitarist Romero Lubambo. Throughout the evening each plays solo and in combination with the other players, each showcasing their own unique style of play, the selection of music is outstanding, the talent, awe-inspiring. In one piece, Stanley Jordan plays the guitar and the piano at the same time, really! Some pieces are intense, it appears as if the instruments have come to life, possessing the hands that play them creating melodies that cast a spell over the audience, mesmerizing all who watch and listen.  The last number brought the audience to its feet, applause was loud and lengthy, earning us an encore, awesome! 

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The Hilton Garden Inn is only a short walk away, we stop in at The Chrome Grille for a nightcap. The atmosphere is casual, lighting is low, as the name predicts chrome accents are found throughout. We join the handful of customers seated at the bar and order drinks, a Spanish Coffee for me and some sort of tasty orange cocktail for Kris. It’s a nice way to wind down after a show. We engage in conversation with a hotel guest, he asks us about Detroit and we share some of the highlights of the city. When the glasses are empty and the conversation ends we call it a night–and what a great night it was!

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DETROIT: The Gem Theatre

20 Dec

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Keeping with the Christmas spirit, we planned an afternoon with friends to see The All Night Strut Holiday Show at the historic Gem Theatre. The Gem and Century have a fascinating history; The 20th Century Club was built in 1903 by a prominent group of civic-minded women in Detroit, it was actually the first building permit issued in a woman’s name in the city, 24 years later the Century Club completed construction of the adjoining building, the Little Theatre. In 1928 the theatre was leased to the Motion Picture Guild, which operated the Little Theatre Chain, the theatre showed the first foreign film in Detroit. In 1933, because of the Depression, the women’s group was forced to leave the building. A beer garden then leased the rooms of the Century Building, it was called The Russian Bear, complete with a Russian menu and balalaika music, it operated throughout the 40’s.Through the years The Little Theatre had seven names including the Rivoli, Drury Lane, the Europa, and the Vanguard Playhouse. During the time it was the Vanguard, the theatre housed the professional residential theatre company founded by George C Scott. The Vanguard Playhouse continued to put on experimental theatre into the 60’s. In 1967 it was renamed the Gem and operated as an adult movie house, that closed in 1978. In 1984 Chuck Forbes purchased the Gem Theatre for $5,000, he also purchased the 20th Century Club; after an 18 month, $2.5 million dollar restoration the building was returned to its original Spanish Revival-style magnificence, on New Year’s Eve 1991 the Gem Theatre officially re-opened. When plans were announced to build Comerica Park and Ford Field the Gem and Century once again faced demolition. Fortunately for all of us the building completed it’s five block move to its current location on November 10, 1997, breaking the Guinness Book World Records as the heaviest building ever moved on wheels. The Gem Theatre celebrated its grand re-opening in the fall of 1998.

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We arrived at the Gem and parked in the structure behind it for free. A walk around to the front reminded me of what an elegant building this is; reddish-brown brick with lots of  stone details, the Gem has a wide entrance for theatre patrons arriving for a show. Three windows with elaborate stone work and balconies add drama to the facade. Six steps take you up to the lobby with its gorgeous pewabic tile floor and wainscoting, wooden beams and golden-colored walls give this area a cozy feeling. Enter the magnificent cube shaped theatre itself; the carpet was re-created from scraps of the original found in the basement, the opulent lighting fixtures and theatre seats were salvaged from the Ambassador Theatre in St Louis. The main floor features 4-person cabaret-style tables, the mezzanine is made up of 250 red velvet seats. Exquisite ceiling and proscenium panels have been reproduced in gold, ruby and sapphire, it’s absolutely amazing! 

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We grabbed ourselves a drink from the adjoining bar in the Century, took our seats, and the show began. The All Night Strut has played off and on at the Gem since 1991 and it’s always a hit. Four singers take you back in time to the 1930’s and 40’s with songs like Chattanooga Choo Choo, White Cliffs of Dover, Minnie The Moocher and I’ll Be Seeing You. Dressed in vintage clothing, they look perfectly at home in this beautiful historic theatre. From the first song on you will be totally entertained, they sing, they dance, they make you forget all the things you may have been thinking about when you entered the building. After the intermission a large sleigh was placed on stage, the actors were now wearing Christmas outfits, and the songs were holiday favorites.  While the quartet sang and danced three musicians were also on stage playing the music live; there was a piano, bass and drums, they were awesome as well. Time flew by quickly and before I knew it the show was over.

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With Christmas songs still playing in my head we drove over to Broadway for dinner at Angelina’s Italian Bistro. The four of us walked in the door to an empty restaurant, the host asked us if we had reservations, I looked around and thought “do we really need them?” Turns out many of the tables were reserved as Detroit theater was hopping! Between The All Night Strut at the Gem, Sister’s Christmas Catechism at the Century and Wicked at the Opera house, reservations were a good idea! We sat at a table by the window and watched the rain come down, it was just before 5pm but because of the weather it looked much later. The dining room is floor to ceiling windows, in the summer they open them up making it feel as if you are eating outdoors. Overlooking Grand Circus Park, The Detroit Opera House and Comerica Park, there is always something going on. The restaurant has a contemporary look and feel  to it, in addition to tables they have a full bar that seats 35 and serves up many of Detroit’s local brews. The menu is filled with appetizers, small plates, house made pastas, pizzas and full entrees. At our table we enjoyed the Bibb Lettuce Salad; candied almonds, grapefruit and red onions over a bed of tender bibb lettuce, dressed with a tasty honey mustard vinaigrette. The Smoked Chicken Pizza was delicious; basil pesto on a thin parmesan crust with smoked chicken, mozzarella and caramelized red onion, excellent. One of our friends ordered the Seafood Risotto, it looked wonderful with plump shrimp and scallops in addition to the vegetables, he said it was very good. Oh, and I can’t forget the Butternut Squash Ravioli, simply to die for. 

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It was such a lovely way to spend a day; good friends, a good show, and good food. If only every day could be like this!  Both the Gem and the Century offer wonderful entertainment in a spectacular atmosphere.  Adult beverages and small plates are available before and during  show times. In addition, the Century Club serves lunch and dinner at The Century Grille Restaurant located on the lower floor. The All Night Strut Holiday Show runs from now until December 31, don’t miss it! As they say….Have A Kool Yule!