United Artists Theatre

150 Bagley Street,
Detroit, MI 48226

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: United Artists Theater Circuit Inc., United Detroit Theaters

Architects: Charles Howard Crane

Styles: Spanish Gothic

Previous Names: Downtown Theatre

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News About This Theater


The United Artists Theatre in Detroit was the third U.A. Theatre designed by C. Howard Crane. It was built in 1928, after the Los Angeles and Chicago United Artist Theatre’s.

All three were designed in the Spanish-Gothic style, and were very similar in many respects, but the Detroit UA also had some major differences. First off, a thirteen story office tower was built on top of the theatre, to allay initial fears that it could be a white elephant.

Crane was faced with an irregular-shaped lot, but made the best of it, giving the UA a round lobby, with a domed ceiling, gilded Art-Deco inspired Indian princesses on the walls, between wall-length mirrors. A marble staircase led up to the mezzanine and balcony levels.

The 2,070-seat auditorium, which was said to be nearly acoustically perfect, was fantastically decorated, with Gothic plasterwork, more gilding, metal-work, and brass light fixtures like something out of a Medieval cathedral.

The Detroit UA Theatre was definitely more dramatic and breath-taking than either of the United Artist theatres Crane had previously done.

Opening night on February 3, 1928 featured the Gloria Swanson hit “Sadie Thompson”, with the star herself on a phone hook-up addressing the full house and opening the curtains for the first time.

Originally, the theatre also had an in-house orchestra and the occasional stage show, but was really one of the city’s first major houses designed primarily for films. It was equipped with a Wurlitzer 3 manual 17 ranks organ.

It also once featured reserved seating, such as when it hosted the Detroit premiere of “Gone With the Wind” in 1939.

For several years in the 1940’s, it was acquired by United Detroit Theaters, but in 1950 was again run by United Artists. It became the first Detroit theatre to feature Cinemascope (with 1953’s “How to Marry a Millionaire”) and also the first to get 70mm, three years later, with “Oklahoma!”.

A major remodeling took place in the early-1960’s, which removed the 4-story marquee, and replaced it with the current, unattractive one. Also, the stately façade, with its arches and terra-cotta work, was lost under a covering of dark, featureless marble up to the office tower. Its lobby also received a similar facelift, covering up much of its spectacular décor and its dome was covered by a dropped ceiling.

However, the UA did have something of a revival during the early-1960’s, having long runs of such blockbusters as “The Sound of Music” and “Tora, Tora, Tora”. This turned out to be a short-lived revival, and by the end of the decade, the United Artists Theatre was screening adult fare.

It closed in 1971.

In 1972, it was renamed and reopened as the Downtown Theatre, but closed in 1974, for good this time.

A year later, its furnishings and remaining artwork were auctioned off, and in the mid-to-late-1970’s was used by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for recording. By the mid-1980’s even the United Artists Tower office building had closed, its tenants having moved to the suburbs.

Since then, there have been plans to restore the United Artists Theatre as a nightclub or movie theatres, but every time these plans have fallen through. In the meantime, the theatre has unfortunately fallen into serious disrepair, its once stunning décor all but gone, and its exterior literally crumbling away (cars parked in front of the building were damaged in 1989 when some brickwork collapsed on the upper stories and fell to the ground).

In the late-1990’s, the theatre was stripped of anything remotely salvageable, and today continues to sit vacant and in a state of near ruin. In January 2018 work began to rehab the former office tower into residential units, with retail units at ground floor.

The theatre was demolished in October 2022. The former office tower containing the outer lobby of the theatre was retained.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 74 comments)

DavidZornig on April 2, 2020 at 4:56 pm

Thank you for posting Matt. Always loved your Granada in Chicago photos.

Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on April 3, 2020 at 8:06 am

David – You’re welcome, but you must have me confused with another photographer re the Granada. I was 7 when it was demolished.

DavidZornig on April 3, 2020 at 9:45 am

Ah, my mistake. It was Mekong.net.


EsseXploreR on September 29, 2022 at 7:42 am

A wall has collapsed at the building. I’m guessing this will speed up the expected demolition.

steelbeard1 on September 30, 2022 at 4:14 pm

While the office building with the lobby is being renovated, the theater itself is being demolished.

DavidZornig on October 11, 2022 at 5:39 pm

Link with September 30, 2022 demolition photos.


Trolleyguy on October 12, 2022 at 8:11 am

Sad, considering that downtown Detroit has started to turn the corner. The rehab of the Michigan Central train station is a good example of that.

terrywade on August 18, 2023 at 6:19 am

The Detroit United Artist Theatre was not the first theatre in Detroit to feature Cinemascope. The larger Fox Theatre had the first Cinemascope film ‘The Robe’ on the big wide scope screen. The United Artist Theatre was the fist cinema in Detroit to have the curved TOOD-AO curved screen and later featured D-150. Sitting empty for many years with no one to save her It will now just be a parking lot for the new apartments going into the theatre office tower. Maybe someone will put in some classic nice photos of the old UA Theatre in the new remodeled apartment lobby. I wonder If anyone has photos of the inside when It had the D-150 curved screen with stage curtains?

edlambert on October 1, 2023 at 5:34 pm

It is reported that the Fox Theatre CinemaScope screen was 74 X 32 feet. This may have been the dimensions before the screen was matted for showings. The first few CinemaScope films had an aspect ratio of 2.66:1. The screen measurement as reported would have allowed only for a 2.31:1 aspect ratio. Not much horizontal masking would have been required, however, to accommodate those earliest ‘scope films.

edlambert on October 11, 2023 at 5:52 pm

More regarding the United Artists: The theater’s mezzanine was altered to include a new projection room for the presentation of Todd-AO films, the first being “Oklahoma!.” It had been discovered with the screening of this film in New York that projecting the film at the extreme angle from high at the back of the Rivoli theater resulted in severe keystoning of the image on the screen. “Straight on” projection from the Rivoli’s lower level eliminated this problem and mezzanine placement of the projectors in Detroit was done before the Todd-AO films were screened. “Oklahoma!” was also available in optically corrected prints to compensate for keystoning but this “correction” also somewhat altered the original framing on the film itself, giving us not what the camera originally “saw.” Most cinemas today offer a more “straight on” projection.

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