17360 Lahser Rd, Detroit, MI 48219
Free parking in fenced lots with security
During the early 20th Century, movie palaces were built to show movies in glamorous settings with rich architectural details. Most were built in the late 1920’s. Years later many were left to decay and then torn down as the modern world changed. Luckily there are some palaces that have been lovingly restored. I love beautiful old movie palaces and have visited several in various cities. Today I’ll share one of my favorites, The Redford Theatre in Old Redford section of Detroit.
Vintage photo via Redford Theatre
I’ve been a fan of the Redford Theatre for several decades. For a couple of years, I was even a member of the Motor City Theatre Organ Society which owns, restores, and maintains the 1928 suburban movie palace. Built for silent films, it was designed with a Barton organ in the theater.
MCTOS first became interested in the theater in the 1960’s due to its fully functional antique theater organ. With the owners permission, they began restoration and maintenance of the organ in 1965. They leased the building for organ recitals and meetings.
Photo Redford Theatre
When the owner was ready to sell the theater in 1974, it was offered to the society first before being put on the market. MCTOS took a giant step and purchased the theater on a seven year land contract. Organ shows and fundraisers were not enough to support the purchase and operation of the theater. While exploring the various means of securing a steady source of income, the idea of a classic movie series was born. The non-profit’s series of classic films in a 1920’s movie theatre is extremely popular and brings folks from all over. Not only do we love the old movies, we love the old theater too. At the end of the land contract, MCTOS was able to make the balloon payment and became the full owner of the theater.
The theater was originally designed with a Japanese motif and included murals, stenciled-designs, grills, and other decorations. Above is the architect’s drawing of the design he put out to bid. It is displayed in the lobby.
After Pearl Harbor, much of the Japanese-style decoration was removed, painted over or covered up. Chandeliers were removed. Iron was desperately needed for the war effort, so the decorative vertical marquee sign and its massive iron supports were removed for war scrap iron. The 1960’s brought even more changes to the building.
Photo Redford Theatre
Using nearly total volunteer labor, the society began restoration of the theater in 1978. Step by step the members and volunteers would work on one small area at a time removing layers of paint, 1940’s and 1960’s panels, and other changes to reveal the original designs. Stencils of original designs were made and they began painting. Through the last decades, the seats were refurbished, carpet was replaced, light fixtures restored or added. Thankfully some light fixtures were donated from the old demolished Oriental Theatre in Detroit. You’ll find a fascinating history of the various projects over the years at their website. The current project under restoration is the restrooms.
The lobby was restored with stencils and vintage movie posters. T shirts are available for purchase.
Look outside through the lobby doors.
Walk up beautifully designed steps to the second floor balcony.
For first floor seating, walk through the inner doors from the lobby to the concessions and then more movie seats.
The seats are comfortable with plenty of leg room. Overhead, a deep blue sky was sprinkled with stars while fluffy clouds appeared to float by.
Several weeks ago my family and I attended a showing of The Wizard of Oz at the Redford Theatre. It was the first time we had seen it on a big screen. As always, we had a wonderful time for only $5 a ticket. We always arrive early so we can listen to the 30 minute organ show before the film. First a stage-sized flag is lowered as we all stand for the Star Spangled Banner played on the organ.
Then the guest organist plays a variety of tunes; it’s great fun. We also enjoy catching up on the latest projects completed in the building. Each one adds another dimension to the intricate design.
Photo via Redford Theatre
I hope you enjoyed our visit to this old movie palace. It’s a great place for a classic film, local theater, and other special events. All proceeds from tickets, t shirts, and concessions are used for the restoration and maintenance of the theater and organ. All theater workers are volunteers. The society has NO paid workers or officers.
Past activities at the Redford Theatre have included a Jackson Browne concert, Pink Floyd: The Wall screening, Detroit Blues Celebration, a visit by Rita Moreno to the showings of West Side Story, ballet performances, a local theatre production of Matilda, and a visit from the cast of “A Christmas Story” to the screenings of the movie. Fall schedule can be found here and includes lots of vintage Halloween fun and the annual Noir City Detroit Festival.
I suggest you also investigate any beautiful movie palaces that have survived in your area. Saving these architectural jewels is a marvelous thing. For a list of 50 Movie Palaces still in use, check out Paste Magazine‘s post, American Movie Palaces.
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