The city of Detroit is home to the most artistic, most magnificent car park in America. The opulent structure that was once known as Michigan Theater is now being used as a three-level parking garage. And here’s the irony of the situation – one of the reasons the theater had closed down was insufficient parking space!
In fact, you could safely say that the car park has come a full circle. Before the theater had opened at the site, it used to contain Henry Ford’s first automobile workshop. That was torn down in 1926 and the theater was constructed with a massive budget of $5 million. Michigan Theater was one of the largest in the state – it could accommodate 4,000 people.
The premises was a multiplex of sorts – it served as a theater, concert hall and movie house. The French Renaissance décor included 10-foot tall chandeliers, a gilded four-story lobby, and mezzanine seating for black tie guests. The structure, covering 1,000 sq. ft., was an architectural marvel and a symbol of Detroit’s growing wealth.
John H. Kunsky, the owner of Michigan Theater, said in August 1926: “It is not merely a theater for Detroit. It is a theater for the whole world. It is designed to be the greatest showplace of the Middle West.” The Detroit Free Press reported: “It is beyond the dreams of loveliness; entering, you pass into another world.”
Unfortunately, that magical world wasn’t meant to last forever. Detroit’s industrial decline resulted in decreasing profits and that marked the beginning of the end. In the 1960s, the premises was used for screening Red Wings ice hockey games. In the ‘70s, Sam Hadous tried to convert the space into a swanky ‘super club’, but the idea conked. It was later used as a rock venue. Eventually, in 1976, the structure was partly demolished and abandoned.
Plans were made to completely demolish the theater, but that would have destabilized an adjoining office building. So in 1977, local authorities decided to make the most of the situation and converted the site into a parking lot. They emptied the auditorium, smashed the walls and installed three levels of car parking.
Even though the building is not what it once used to be, you can still catch glimpses of its former glory. A magnificent staircase, with its red carpet intact, leads to the abandoned balcony. Torn red velvet curtains hang along with peeling plaster. The magnificent painted walls and ceiling still lend the place a sense of grandeur.
Photo: Bob Jagendorf
You could view this one-of-a-kind parking garage yourself – all you need is a car and a parking pass. And a ticket to Detroit, of course.