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Exhibit | Silver Screens: Ann Arbor Goes to the Movies


Wednesday February 15, 2023: 10:00am to Thursday April 6, 2023: 8:00pm


Downtown Library: 2nd Floor Exhibit


Architect's Sketch of Proposed Theater, March 4, 1927
Architect's Sketch of Proposed Theater, March 4, 1927

Theaters in Ann Arbor ushered in a new era when the first motion picture film debuted in 1897. Since the beginning, entertainment and the arts have encountered shifts in demand with ever-changing technological advances. Through renovations and revivals, movie theaters and films have maintained a prominent space in Ann Arbor’s cultural sphere. 

Movie Theaters have both thrived and struggled since their first arrival in Ann Arbor, starting with the introduction of the short-lived Theatorium in 1906. Shortly after, several more opened, often doubling as film theaters and live performance venues. Many establishments used pop-up style equipment to show films. But by 1913, theaters such as the Wuerth and Orpheum were built with facilities designed for film exhibition. Early theaters were owned individually, but as movies became a more streamlined facet of arts entertainment, business too became streamlined. By the 1920s Butterfield Theaters bought the majority of Ann Arbor’s local theaters, and would remain in business for five more decades. 

Through the 1950s theaters continued to grow in popularity, with drive-ins and remodeled early-era theaters offering newer, larger, and more impressive silver screens. With the rise of home television, theaters attempted to draw audiences in with new, improved facilities. Over the next decade, theaters began to move away from downtown and into the townships. In 1967, Fox Village Theater opened on Maple Road, followed by the opening of the first multiplex cinema with four screens: United Artists at Briarwood in 1975. Through the 1980s to early 2000s, Goodrich and Showcase Theaters came to Ann Arbor, creating the environment we know today. Historic theaters that remained downtown either closed or continued to expand, renovate, and rebuild to fit more screens.

119 years after the first motion picture debuted in Ann Arbor in 1904, a love for film has remained. Throughout the years, theaters have come and gone–from early nickelodeons that showed film as an afterthought, to cineplexes designed to house multiple shows simultaneously, theaters have endured.