Location Name: Eastown Theatre (Detroit, Michigan)
Location Type: Abandoned Site (Theatre)
Year Completed: 1931
Architect(s): V. J. Waier
Eastown Theatre opened on 01 October 1931 with the showing of the film ‘Sporting Blood.’ Built solely for ‘talking pictures,’ Eastown joined the league of Detroit’s many neighborhood theatres that seemed to be popping up in all areas of the growing city. Designed by architect V. J. Waier, the 2,500-seat theatre was built for the Whisper and Westman movie chain. In its early days, a Saturday or Sunday evening admission would cost an adult a full thirty-five cents. The building also featured office space, and more unusually, a thirty-five unit apartment complex. Over the next few decades the beautifully decorated East Side move palace began to face hard times as residents began to leave the neighborhood and the community made a turn for the worse. In 1967 the Eastown was forced to close due to lack of business.
While the Eastown began as a movie theatre, in 1969 it was reopened for another usage. Like the nearby Grande Ballroom on the West Side, the Eastown was stripped of much of its adornment and seats and used as a concert venue for Detroit’s emerging Rock and Roll scene. SRC opened the Eastown for the first time as a music venue on 29 May 1969. Over the next few years, international acts performed at the Eastown before crowds of rowdy, mostly drug influenced concertgoers. Bands such as The Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd and Cream made their way onto the Eastown stage in the early 1970s. While this new use breathed life into the theatre, the drug scene that accompanied it spelt death for some. Also, the neighborhood began to see the crowds as a danger and a nuisance as reports of vandalization and disorderly conduct began to mount. After some investigation, the Eastown was forced to close in 1973 spelling an end for its life as a rock hall.
Over the next few decades the theatre served several uses. In the mid-1970s it became a jazz hall but after its failure it saw new life as an adult movie theatre until 1984 when it was purchased by the Detroit Center for the Performing Arts. Despite the hope of becoming a respectable theatre once again, in 1990 the theatre was abandoned. Throughout the 1990s the empty theatre became the site of many rave parties. As the building deteriorated, weather damage began to allow water to seep through the roof causing significant interior damage. When it seemed that the Eastown could not take much more, a fire broke out on 09 August 2010 and gutted the apartment section of the building.
Today the Eastown sits half demolished but most of the theatre area is intact. Despite this, little interior decoration remains and the seats have all been removed. After the fire the Eastown became slated for demolition but there is no word on how long that may take. Until then the theatre continues to decay, with the effects of weather and trespassers continuing to take their toll on the historic structure. Little hope remains that anything will be salvaged from the site. Hopefully the neglect of the Eastown Theatre can bring attention to the value of preserving Detroit’s remaining movie palaces. While some have been restored, others have been demolished, converted into parking garages or, like the Eastown, left to rot.Sources