1927: In 1927, local businessman Angelo Poulos announced he would add a movie theater to the new retail and office building he was planning on Liberty Street near campus. A “Shrine of Entertainment,” the theater would be operated by W. S. Butterfield’s Michigan Circuit of 75 movie theaters. Butterfield and Poulos hired architect Maurice Finkel to design what would become Ann Arbor’s first and only "movie palace."
Opening night January 5, 1928, featured the film A Hero for a Night. Karl Weiderhold conducted the Michigan Theater orchestra, with a gala vaudeville show starring Ida May Chadwick and Her Dizzy Blondes. The "golden-voiced $50,000" Barton theater organ, "equivalent to a 60-piece orchestra," inspired the audience with sounds ranging from “the soft, sweet tone of a cathedral organ to that of a mighty band.”
Col. Butterfield, whose company controlled most of the movie theaters in town, transferred the entire staff from the Majestic Theater to work at the Michigan. This included manager Gerald Hoag, who soon ran all of Butterfield's theaters in town. As the largest of Ann Arbor's theaters, the Michigan screened popular movies from Hollywood. Equipped with a large stage, the theater also presented vaudeville and other live-on-stage performances, including professional, community, and University productions.
In 1978 plans were announced to convert the theater into retail space. A nonprofit organization was formed to “preserve and restore the historic Michigan Theater for the benefit of the community and the arts.” Through the efforts of volunteer organist Henry Aldridge and with the encouragement of Mayor Louis Belcher, the citizens of Ann Arbor decided to purchase the theater from the Poulos family. A restoration process begun in 1986 and completed in 2002 has brought the theater back to the glory of its beautiful movie palace origins.
That's a Fact! The Barton Organ is in its original location, and has been played longer than any theater organ in the country, except for Radio City Music Hall's in New York City.
Caption 1: A team of uniformed employees once ushered the audience to its seats.
Caption 2: Opening Night program