120 W. Adams Avenue,
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Architects: Percival Raymond Pereira
Previous Names: Oriental Theatre, RKO Downtown Theatre
News About This Theater
- Aug 5, 2008 — Detroit historic theatres tour
Opened as the Oriental Theatre, this movie palace was the only Atmospheric style theatre ever built in downtown Detroit, opening on September 26, 1927. It had a Middle Eastern theme to its décor, and originally seated 2,950. It was designed by Percival R. Pereira, his only theatre built in the downtown area.
The opening day movie was called “Blood Ship” starring Hobart Bosworth, and despite its title, was an adventure and not a horror movie! The theatre had a house orchestra in its early years, led by Frank Museal. It was equipped with a 3 manual 15 ranks Kimball organ. For many years the house organist was Dudley Boomhower.
On August 23, 1930, the Oriental Theatre was acquired by RKO and was renamed the RKO Downtown Theatre, reopening with Bebe Daniels in “Dixiana”. Three years later a scandal erupted at the RKO Downtown Theatre when the management refused to allow an African-American couple to sit on the main floor in the "whites-only" area, instead of in the balcony. The theatre was ordered to pay the couple $300 in damages.
The Downtown Theatre was closed in 1950, having last been operated by the Chicago-based H & E Balaban chain. Three years later, the theatre was demolished (except for the former lobby area, now a restaurant) to make way for a parking lot, which was later built on as housing. Its crystal chandeliers were removed and now hang in the lobby of Detroit’s Redford Theatre.
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