Around the Circuit: Redford Theatre | Detroit, MI

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It takes an army of people united to restore and run historic theatres in communities in America. Those involved need to have the know-how, the desire and the belief that the theatre should be shared with all. The Redford Theatre run by the Motor City Theatre Organ Society in Detroit, MI is no exception to that rule.

The story of the Redford starts in 1910 with the desire of local citizens to have a stage show of their own. By 1923, their dream had turned into a full-fledged and popular reality – so popular that it outgrew its makeshift space which also included a church, a Masonic Temple and a school auditorium.

Talks of building a playhouse of their own came to fruition when citizens identified a location and purchased it in 1923. However, that was only the first step – months of obstacles and delays finally led them to the final plan and financing. Local firm Verner, Wilhelm & Molby of Detroit would act as architects, the final leasee for the theatre would be John H. Kunsky Co. and Harry Lush would take on the storefronts and office space built to the complex.

The ground breaking for the Redford Theatre was early in 1927, and the plan was to build a 2,000+ seat atmospheric theatre decked out with a Japanese motif (including a pagoda-styled proscenium arch) and in the auditorium was to be a Barton theatre organ to accompany the silent films currently being shown. When completed, the final cost of the construction and furnishings of the Redford was $500,000.

In coming decades, the Redford saw many physical changes, including the impact of World War II, which led to the covering of the Japanese motif. In the 40s, new guidelines from the Projectionist Union forced the theatre to decrease its seating capacity to around 1,200 seats. By the 50s, the theatre started to see new life as part of the Goldberg family’s Community Theatres chain, a local circuit. Over the next decade the theatre would continue to operate within that circuit and in 1965, the newly founded Motor City Theatre Organ Society (MCTOS) would take on the restoration and maintenance of the Redford’s Barton organ.

In 1974, the Community Theatres chain decided that the Redford was no longer profitable and offered to lease it directly to MCTOS. After three short years, the lease option no longer interested Community Theatres and they offered to sell it outright. MCTOS was able to purchase the Redford with the assistance of generous donations directly from members and the first payment on the full $125,000 was made on November 7, 1977.

Since that first payment in 1977 and the subsequent final payment in 1985, MCTOS has taken the job of caretaker very seriously, including overseeing painstaking restoration work on the theatre. For nearly 40 years, dedicated volunteers have been the life blood of the operation. They have sought out replacement fixtures (including the chandeliers from the Detroit Oriental Theatre – now placed in the lobby of the Redford), removed walls covering detailed organ grills, repainted and restored decorative painting elements, upgraded electrical wiring (including upgrading the stars in the atmospheric ceiling to fiber optic strands) and technology, all to ensure the continued life of this gem.

A few weekends ago, THS had the opportunity to tour the Redford prior to a screening of Albert Hitchcock’s Notorious. While there, THS Development & Marketing Director Janine Pixley, and local member Curtis Cooper were able to see first-hand the results of the recent renovation efforts that included replacing the seats in the upper balcony and replacing the carpet in the theatre and lobbies. We’re thrilled to share images of what we saw on the tour with you, and while you may not have an opportunity to see the theatre yourself, you can now tour the Redford virtually.

While the renovation work has been completed, the fundraising for it is not. To make a donation in support of the renovation, click here.

To find out more about the Redford, or to purchase tickets to an upcoming screening, visit them online.

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THS would like to thank everyone at Motor City Theatre Organ Society for their hospitality. Portions of the above text were taken from the MCTOS website timeline.

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