BY EVELYN ASCHENBRENNER | FOR HISTORICDETROIT.ORG
From a temple to a theater.
The Bonstelle Theatre was originally the Temple Beth El synagogue, designed by architect Albert Kahn – who belonged to the congregation. The domed building stands at 3424 Woodward Ave., between Eliot and Erskine. During the widening of Woodward in the mid-1930s, the front was drastically changed. In 1925, it housed a theater company and was named the Bonstelle Playhouse, the name that would prove to be the longest lasting over the years. After the Depression, the theater was used as a movie house. In 1951, the theater was acquired by Wayne State University, which restored its name and function as a theatre.
The temple years
Detroit’s Jewish residents founded the Beth El Society on Sept. 22, 1850, making it the oldest Jewish congregation in Michigan. The growing reform congregation moved to several buildings before hiring Kahn, a member of the congregation, to design a new temple. He turned to Roman and Greek temples for inspiration, giving the building a Beaux Arts look. Located on the east side of Woodward Avenue, between Eliot and Erskine Streets, the temple was built on a lot 100 feet wide and 200 feet deep. The cornerstone for the temple was laid at 3 p.m. April 23, 1902. It took only seven months to finish the building, and the first services were held Jan. 24, 1903.
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