The movies can take you places, and so can the time-machine theaters that show them. The League of American Historic Theatres lists more than 70 in Michigan, enough to concoct your own popcorn-powered tour whether you’re in the mood for a classic film, first-run movie or live stage show.
Michigan’s granddaddy is the Croswell Opera House in Adrian, named after Charles M. Croswell, a resident and Michigan’s governor from 1877-81. It’s been entertaining audiences since 1866.
Another oldie is the 1886 Calumet Theatre, the oldest city-built and -owned opera house in the country. Built on the copper boom, it has operated continuously since 1900. Listen for actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr., the golden voice of Sarah Bernhardt and John Philip Sousa conducting “Semper Fidelis.”
Two gems are 350 miles apart. Near the Tahquamenon Falls in Newberry, the 200-seat, 1930 Tahqua Land Theatre is decorated with 10,000 sheets of gold leafing and Greek mythological murals. Detroit’s 5,048-seat Fox Theatre, has been restored to its 1928 Moorish-Burmese-Chinese-Indian-Persian glory.
Midway between Newberry and Detroit is “The Queen of the North,” Houghton Lake’s Pines Theater. You won’t believe that the Pines, built of logs in 1941 to echo a hunter’s chalet, had the same architect as the bejeweled Fox.
Pipes draw patrons to the Fox, Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater, the Redford Theatre and the 1928 Ironwood Theatre, which started with vaudeville and silent movies. Organs provided music when silent films could not.
Frankfort’s restored 1923 Garden Theater hosts its own film fest. In Traverse City, the Grand Traverse Rotary Charities, filmmaker Michael Moore and the Traverse City Film Festival had roles in saving the State and Bijou by the Bay theaters. The Motion Picture Association of America has listed the State as the No. 1 movie theater in the world. Between the State and the 150-seat Bijou you’ll find a mix of first run and classic films and 25-cent kiddie matinees.
A well-planned itinerary of Michigan theaters could include silent movies, talkies, live acts, musicals and organ recitals.
A doorman at the Michigan Theater in the mid-1970s, Joe Grimm explored the dressing rooms and projection room, the fly loft above the stage and the spaces beneath the auditorium floor, and climbed between the theater’s vaulted ceiling and its roof.
Photos courtesy of the Tahqua Land Theatre