Wayne Theatre

35164 Michigan Avenue,
Wayne, MI 48184

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Wayne Amusements

Architects: Charles K. Miller

Previous Names: Shafer Wayne Theatre

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 734.783.3935
Manager: 7347287469SHOW

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Wayne Theatre

Built in 1927, the historic Wayne Theatre was one of the last flat ceiling vaudeville houses left in the country whoch was first ran by the Koppin Vaudeville Circuit.

The theatre closed in 1930 due to the onset of the Great Depression, but reopened by 1931 with a greater focus on movies.

In 1951, the lobby was converted into a music store and the whole theatre was later converted into office space and retail shops.

In 1985, a fire destroyed the stores in the former lobby area.

In around 2001, the Wayne Theatre was in the process of being renovated and restored back into a theatre by the Palace Theatre Company/Wayne Theatre Corporation. Sadly, it was demolished in the summer of 2008.

Contributed by Matthew Wilkinson, Sean Doerr

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

waynetheatre on January 13, 2004 at 9:02 am

The History of the Wayne Theatre
The Wayne Theatre is one of the few remaining vaudeville houses in Michigan. Itâ€\s a true treasure.
Help save it from the wrecking ball and preserve a part of our heritage for future generations.

This is a story of a theatre that once was the talk of western Wayne County. Today it’s all but forgotten. The final chapter, however, is yet to be written. If a group of concerned citizens are successful, the story will tell of a theatre that literally returned from the grave to live again with laughter and applause.

Back in 1926, when most of the area was rural farmland, when Michigan Avenue was the main highway between Detroit and Chicago. The Village of Wayne was the hub of activity, local businessmen built a theatre and hotel complex. It included five stores along Michigan Avenue and a bowling alley in the basement.

The Wayne Theatre, by all accounts, was one of the most beautiful ever built in a small town. It seated 850 (625 on the main floor, 225 in the balcony) and featured excellent acoustics, a full orchestra pit and a fly loft for stage curtains. Ads called it “The Pride of Wayne”. They promised the latest in photo plays (that’s what they called movies in those days) and the best in Vaudeville on Saturday and Sunday.

Opening night was August 27, 1927. Newspaper articles tell of patrons lined up for more then a block when the doors opened at 6:30 p.m. a standing-room-only audience saw Marion Davis in “Tillie the Toiler,” an our gang comedy, ‘Yale vs. Harvard,“ a Paramount News Short, and five Vaudeville Acts. The shows were a hit. Soon, it was the most popular Theatre in town.

The Woodward Theatre Company, headed by Henry S. Koppin, operated the theatre. Koppin managed 26 Theatres in Michigan that were popularly known in the Midwest as the Koppin Vaudeville Circuit. Many big acts toured Detroit, such as Al Jolson and Fred Astaire, also played the Wayne. Special radio nights included a broadcast of Jack Dempsey – Gene Tunney fight. And radio station WJR regularly presented “The Oklahoma Cowboys” live from the stage. But, alas, the stock market crash of 1929 caused Koppin to close his chain of theatres. A few months later Walter Shafer borrowed $500.00 dollars from his mother and reopened the Wayne Theatre and operated it with his sons, Charles and Martin, as a movie house until 1951, when it was closed. The Shafers had recently opened the larger, more modern State down the street. As with the Vaudeville that was once so popular, the Wayne Theatre soon became but a fond memory.

The lobby of the Wayne was converted into a music store. Occasionally, high schools used the stage. Eventually, however, the seats were removed, and the auditorium was partitioned into music and dance rehearsal rooms. It remained that way until April 1985, when a fire destroyed the lobby and the stores along Michigan Avenue. The theatre itself sustained only minor smoke and water damage.

It sat vacant and fenced for nearly two years. Finally, a group of theatre buffs formed a non-profit corporation to restore the theatre called The Palace Theater Company, named after the Palace Opera House that was built in Wayne in 1886. An open house was held August 27,1987 (60 years after opening night) to announce restoration plans. These plans include rebuilding of the lobby, refurbishing the auditorium to its former splendor and creating a performing arts center for the Western Wayne County area. The Wayne Theatre is one of the few remaining vaudeville houses in Michigan. It’s a true historic treasure. We want to save it from the wrecking ball and preserve a part of our heritage for future generations.

Building idea born in the woods
The question of building a theatre and hotel in Wayne was first mentioned while in camp at Mr. George M. Stellwagon lodge near Grand Marais, Michigan, during deer hunting season of 1925. Mr. Stellwagon, C. K. Miller, R. W. Reiser, and John Hawthorne were in the group, and these four individuals later became the principals who succeeded in stirring up enough enthusiasm to put the proposition across.

After their return from camp it was decided to interest other Wayne men in the project, the promotion plan being left to Mr. Charles K. Miller. Realizing the need for a theatre and hotel here, the original four men had little difficulty in getting at the proposition as they did, a doubt that was soon dispelled after first promotion work started. They felt certain that if they could have the men they wanted in camp with them, with nothing to do in the long evenings but plan such ventures, the proposition could be pulled over, but it was a long while to wait until the next hunting season. However, to the credit of those interested in the enterprise, it was not necessary to deport them into deer country in November, with the result of Wayne people are going to enjoy to the utmost entertainment possibilities offered by the new theatre, as well as, express their praise for the hotel and incidentally, the men who had the faith to see this thing though to the finish.

Management of Construction
Handling the construction work and outlining the plans and specifications for Wayne’s new hotel and theatre building was entirely in line with the earlier experiences of C. K. Miller. Before coming to Wayne as a efficiency engineer for the old Harroun Motors Company in the spring of 1917, he had been associated with several prominent automobile and building concerns as construction manager or as an expert on gasoline engine carburetion. But for the fact that Wayne had someone qualified to take the lead in a building project such as the new Wayne Theatre represents and one who, without expense, could prepare the initial plans and details for presentation to local men it is unlikely that this structure would of been a possibility at the present time. From the inception of the idea until the building was turned over to the leasing company and serving in such a capacity has kept him a very busy individual.

Mr. Miller was born in Sandusky, Ohio but received his first training in the contraction business in Colorado where he moved with his parents. This work was later followed by his entry into the machinery installation field, putting in several years as state representative for some of the country’s largest equipment houses. Much of this work was conducted in connection with the mining industry in Colorado. In 1916, he relocated to Detroit, as an automobile distributor, since which time he has been more or less closely connected with this industry. After a year spent with the Harroun in Wayne, Mr. Miller was giving charge of a Detroit plant for a trust company. In 1918 he returned to Wayne and took charge for the government in the installation of a million and a quarter’s worth of machinery in the Harroun plant, which was then entering upon war work. Between the completion of this work and his purchase of the George C. Walker garage in Wayne in 1920 Mr. Miller served as construction engineer for the Timkin Axle and Maxwell Motors, in Detroit. He was the oldest Willys-knight and Overland dealer in the country, his success in this line having necessitated and enlarging of his garage in 1923, this being the first building in Wayne having steel roof trusses. His work in connection with the new theatre has been a sideline but it has been a most important one from the standpoint of service he has rendered the men with whom he had been associated.

Wayne Theatre Corporation Formed
Organization of the Wayne Theatre Corporation was completed in the summer of 1926, following an informal gathering of local business men who had become interested in the project. R. W. Reiser was named president of the company; Harry Goodman, vice-president; George Gerbstad, secretary; and John Truesdell, treasurer. These men, with Charles A. Handeyside, comprise the board of directors. Other stockholders of the corporation were William Meyers, T. A. Jamieson, John E. Hawthorne, C. C. Maben, William F. Hoffman, A. S. Poole, Elizabeth Stellwagon, Agness Stellwagon, Matthew H Tinkham, William E. Rice, Adolf Knorfske, Andrew Moore, Frank Bewernitz, George M. Stellwagon, and Charles K. Miller then later named general manager and had active charge of all details of construction.

Without exception these people were all residents of the community and all during the process of promotion and construction the idea had been the uppermost of making the theatre and hotel a proposition that would merit the pride of the territory in and around Wayne. The same idea was carried out in the letting of the contracts on the building, in every case where it was all possible, the work being given to individuals or firms located within the community. Actual promotion of the theatre proposition was started in January 1926. The first work had begun on August 2, 1926 and the beginning of work above grade had its start December 3, 1926. During the construction period 28 days were lost because of weather conditions when the foundations were being made and another 12 days after the building was ready to be enclosed.

Cement Plays a Big Part in Theatre Construction
“Use of this material whenever possible lowers all the risk of fires.”
The Wayne theatre has been made as nearly fire proof as possible by the use of concrete through its construction. The combination of steel and cement has been worked out in harmonious proportions in the Wayne theatre where the most modern methods of employing these materials were used.

The cement work, from the foundation to the roof, as well as, the mason work in the theatre job was done by Arrowsmith Brothers, Ernie & George, local contractors whose reputation for this work had been well established in this part of the country.

The first cement was poured in August 1926 and from then until July 1927. Arrowsmith Brothers employed a large number of men, necessary to complete their part of the work on schedule time. A glimpse at the theatre today does not give a proper idea of the amount of cement work necessary for a building of this kind and people who see only the tastily decorated walls will scarcely realize that underneath all the beauty lies a mass of concrete and steel that was used to insure the patrons safety at all times. The floors, dressing rooms, stage enclosures, projection room and all other parts where wood was not essential, are of reinforced concrete. In addition to the theatre’s spacious stage accommodations provided as well as graceful lines that characterized the entire beauty scheme, the stage was provided with a score of drops and scenery sufficient for vaudeville acts. Modern stage equipment had been installed, with dressing rooms and orchestra room underneath. Every seat in the theatre had an unobstructed view of the stage. Accommodations are provided for 850 patrons although an additional 100 seats could have been provided if necessary. The ladies lounge is located on the balcony floor and is reached from the foyer by an ornamental stairway. The smoking room is in the basement, entrance also being from the foyer. Floors are heavily carpeted with the furnishings in keeping with the general color scheme. Walls furnished in antique plaster and delicately tinted, its wide entrance and exit aisles, handsome stairways to the balcony and magnificent electrical fixtures.

The hotel part of the building had 21 rooms with a handsome lobby, all rooms had running water and Quality baths as part of their equipment. Five store spaces with the first two occupied by local businessmen, L. A. Tooley Confectionery Shop and Steins Flower Shop. And in the basement a bowling alley.

Erected by the Wayne Theatre Corporation, composed of people from this vicinity, the entire building was leased early spring of 1926 to the Woodward Theatre Company, of Detroit. Henry S. Koppin, who operated a string of 26 theatres in and around the city, was head of the leasing company. In announcing their policy of operating the Wayne Theatre Mr. Koppin stated that only the best in films would be sent to the local house. On Saturday and Sunday vaudeville was added to the regular bill, the program was continuous from 2 until 11 P.M. on these days.

Walter Dennis Shafer from Indianapolis, Indiana where he had been a public stenographer joined the Fox organization and learned theatre management in New York and New Jersey. He met his wife, Lillian Thiemer, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. In 1921 he became manager of the Fox Theatre on Washington Boulevard, Detroit which was torn down and stuffer’s was built. Five years later he helped supervise the building of the present Fox Theatre on Woodward and was put in charge after it opened. But in 1927 Shafer left Fox and joined the Koppin vaudeville circuit as general manager of theatres in Detroit, Flint, Dearborn, and Wayne. With the depression, he left the circuit and took over the Wayne Theatre in Wayne. The 1932 bank holiday hit him hard, but he hung on to his theatre and kept going. By 1939 he was financially able to begin building new theatres, followed later by drive-ins. The Charles Shafer still owns the Ford Wyoming Drive-In theatre in Dearborn, their last and only theatre.

Mr. Martin Shafer once told me that once a year they had to change the light bulbs in the theatre. There were a total of 8 chandeliers in the theatre, 4 in the main hall that lowered by a cable and 4 in the balcony. The chandeliers in the balcony, 2 were lowered by a cable and 2 were not. Martin remembers that time most off all because he was the smallest one out of his brother and father. They used to have to wedge a strait ladder under the seats in the very back row. While his father and brother would hold the ladder, Martin would have to dangle out on the ladder to the chandelier to change the bulbs, which there was nothing under him except a 20-foot fall. He said, “my mother had a death every time he did that“. Martin also remembers back when they first opened the theatre they did not sell concessions, there was a popcorn vender that would sit out on the corner of Wayne rd. and Michigan Ave. Patrons would stop before the show and purchase some popcorn then come see the show. Walter Shafer, while the show was on, had the boys, Charles and Martin watch to see if any patrons would drop any popcorn onto the floor. If they did drop any popcorn they had to clean it up right away because his father did not want any critters coming in the theatre while the show was going.

We would like to put a book of memoirs together of your memories of the Wayne theatre please contact us and let us know your memories.

The Wayne Theatre Corporation
The Wayne Theatre Corporation is an all-volunteer, non-profit corporation, consisting of local citizens with a goal of providing a place of cultural enrichment not just the Wayne/Westland area, but for all of Western Wayne County. We want the theatre to be a community center, a place where high school drama classes could rehearse and put shows on for the community, hold high school reunions, or have a marionette show put on for a kindergarten class, anything that the theatre could be used for. The Theatre is here for the communityâ€\s use for anything they would like to see done with it. We need help in reaching this goal. We consist of 9 board members and about 1000 volunteers. We need help in many different fields. We currently are working on getting the theatre into shape as a theatre again in utilizing what we have. We need plaster repair, grant writing, Electricians, etc. We need your help in reaching our goal!

If you would like to donate your time or monetary contributions (donations are tax deductible) please call the theatre at (734) 728-7469
or write:
The Wayne Theatre Corporation
35164 W. Michigan Avenue
Wayne Mi. 48184
You can also visit us online!
www.historicwaynetheatre.com • E-mail us at:

Our heritage is all that we know of ourselves;
What we preserve of it, our only record.
That record is our beacon in the darkness of time;
The light that guides our steps.
Conservation is the means by which we preserve it.
… It is a commitment not only to the past,
But to the future.

sdoerr on January 30, 2004 at 2:05 pm

That is correct Charles. If anyone has any questions feel free to ask me. I am a volunteer there, I know a lot about the place,

sdoerr on October 22, 2004 at 9:58 pm

Come one come all! The Haunted Theatre is in full swing, and the profits go directly to the theatre. You can also get a look at the whole thing after you go through the fright! More info on our website.

nicole16 on October 30, 2005 at 8:10 pm

This was interesting to read because Henry S. Koppin was my great grandfather, it’s always fun to read something about your family online as long as it’s not something bad that is!

kencmcintyre on January 30, 2008 at 11:39 pm

This is an article dated 12/20/07 about the possible demolition of the Wayne:

sdoerr on March 4, 2008 at 9:17 pm

It’s all over… thanks for your support everyone.

Demolition approved by the new owner… the city of Wayne. Asbestos abatement to occur in the very near future.

Attempt underway to remove plaster decorative elements.

A piece of Wayne’s history is gone, a sad day for a city that doesn’t have much history left to spare.

sdoerr on September 21, 2008 at 8:59 am

The pride of Wayne is now gone.


spectrum on January 23, 2009 at 2:02 pm

The link posted by Lost Memory on 1/27/08 now shows photos of the demolition.

CMHurley on April 6, 2016 at 4:28 pm

I will say this, the City of Wayne has no idea what they lost when they made the harsh decision to tear down the old Wayne Theater. I was born and raised in Wayne, and lived there all my life until this past November when I moved to Westland. Wayne is becoming a wasteland, no money, mismanagement and over reliance on Ford Motor Company, nothing downtown to draw folks in save for the State Wayne Theater, which thankfully the city sold to Phoenix Theaters who have turned a beautiful classic old theater into an even more spectacular place to see movies.

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