Comments from SubtheatreUrban

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SubtheatreUrban commented about George Burns Theatre on Mar 22, 2004 at 6:31 pm

I managed to gain access (with permission) about a year before the theater was demo’d. It was really in excellent condition—no roof leaking or major deterioration—although that gaudy geometric theme was also carried into the carpeting, on the concession stands and elsewhere. There are a few shots of the concession area on another theater-documenting website. The red upholstered seats were in beautiful shape; hopefully some other theater group ended up with them. Also in the auditorium were cigar-shaped wall lights commemorating the trademark of the old comedian. The lobby had a few large wooden “cigar boxes” on the walls with quotes from Mr. Burns inside. Looking at it objectively, it really wasn’t anything too high-budget or fancy. However, there were many excellent artifacts lying around, including a box full of programs from one of the Burns’ final productions, original Mai Kai building plans, and an old film projector in the projection room. I have no idea what sort of fate befell these wonderful items. All in all, it looked as though with a bit of cleaning and patchwork here and there, the theater was all set for another opening of another show.

I did take quite a few pictures, and am hoping to get them posted somewhere in cyberspace soon. Hopefully Cinema Treasures will soon be accepting pictures again, as it would be nice to have one of the GBT on this page.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what it looked like inside as the Mai Kai, although I’ve been told it was quite fantastic with its Polynesian décor. People often reminisce about the animated “erupting” volcano that was formerly on the side of its marquee (apparently neon?), as well as another decorative volcano that was behind the concession stand. If you get a chance, check out the old Livonia Observer microfilm from April 1963 from at the local library. There are a few cool black and white ads for the Mai Kai’s grand opening which show the exterior of the building in all of its new (though newsprint-fuzzy) glory.

Oh, and one other somewhat interesting note: When they were in the process of tearing the theater down, if you looked in through the north / back side (i.e., in the general area where the screen once was), the blue curtain that had surrounded the orchestra pit was still visible. Apparently that’s just one of those things they don’t bother to remove before the wrecking machines arrive…

SubtheatreUrban commented about George Burns Theatre on Mar 20, 2004 at 10:15 am

It can be argued that Bill Brown Ford helped keep the Mai Kai/George Burns intact for the good 10 years the theater lay dormant. Since they stored their new vehicles there, they had security patrolling the area, which doubtlessly kept vandals away (although, based on stories I’ve heard, the occasional rabble-rouser, dare-accepter or thrill-seeker still managed to sneak in). I was always amazed that after all the passed time, the glass front doors were never shattered. In fact, the first time I recall seeing them boarded up was just before the structure was torn down.

As far as the Terrace goes, it actually closed its doors in 1999. Although I was at first irritated to see Bill Brown move in around 2002, after talking to a representative, I learned that they were very conscientious of the theater’s importance to the community when they made the conversion. When it first opened as a used car showroom/lot, I was told they allotted some time for residents to stop by and check things out. Also, when I was driving by, I noticed that the side of their white company truck has a picture of the theater and reads something to the affect of “Bill Brown Ford at the Terrace.” There’s some comfort, I think, in the fact that it’s still standing and respected in a historical sense, whereas the Mai Kai—which was situated on a prime chunk of real estate—now lingers only in memory.

I’ll admit that the weather-beaten geometric patterns on its facade were quite an eyesore—and the silhouette of Mr. Burns hanging from the marquee awkward and eerie. However, after the city tried for years to revive it as a possible community theater/venue, the suburban demand just wasn’t there. “Fountain Park,” as it is now called, offers you a shiny smattering of generic new homes, a Walgreen’s and a TCF Bank. But for me, at least, they’ll never match up to that Polynesian-themed, single-screened white elephant.