It's almost too perfect a picture of urban decay: an opulent movie palace turned hollow and empty into a parking lot. In recent decades, Detroit's Michigan Theater has become iconic for all the wrong reasons, but it's just been bought by a developer with plans to revitalize the building and, with it, a small chunk of Detroit.

The 4,000-seat Michigan Theater opened in 1926, when automobile money was pouring into Detroit and Hollywood had just entered its Golden Age. The four-story lobby was appropriately lavish, with marble columns and red velvet and crystal chandeliers. Decades passed. While the car industry in Detroit stopped growing, car culture did not. Lack of parking doomed the business at the massive theater. For a while, it was a nightclub, the city's largest in fact. But in 1977, the building's owners had gutted the building and turned it into a parking lot.

Image credit: Ronnie Yip /Flickr

Image credit: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

Our friends at Jalopnik have written a detailed history of the Michigan Theater, the most ironic detail of which is that the theater was built on top of Henry Ford's first workshop. You should read all about it over at Jalopnik.

But here, we're also interested in the future of the Michigan Theater, which is looking just a little brighter now. For years, what saved the theater's skeleton from complete demolition was simply that tearing it down would have damaged an adjoining building. But in July, developers at the Boydell Group bought it for an undisclosed amount.

According to the Huffington Post, Boydell hopes to attract startups and entrepreneurs to office space in the adjoining Michigan Building. Much of the space of the former theater will actually remain a parking lot, but it will be renovated and used for events. They'll have some material to work with: although the grand old staircase is gone, parts of the upper balcony, the ticket booth, proscenium arch, and even the curtain are still around, albeit faded and cracked.

One possible use, which would have been unthinkable in 1926, is hosting skateboarding competitions. Just this weekend, the Michigan Theater parking lot was turned into a temporary skate park for a national skateboarding competitions. It's a repurposing that nods to the space's history as both a theater of spectacle and a humble parking lot.


The Michigan Theater has long been a symbol of Detroit's faded glory. In the right hands, it could perhaps become a symbol of its revitalization. [Archdaily]

All images courtesy of Paul Hitz photography, unless otherwise credited.