Today marks the first of many posts from our Castle Museum staff sharing their favorite person, place, or thing from Saginaw County!
THE MICHIGAN THEATRE
My memories of the Michigan Theatre are from Saturday afternoon matinees. The cartoons and western serials were pretty big things to kids. The place would be nearly sold out. I remember seeing “War of the Worlds” there. I still remember, vividly, that serpent-like alien device, with its red-blue-green “eye”, snaking through a window spying on us earthlings! A couple memories of the theatre itself stand out. The ceiling lights in the auditorium looked to me like red, white, and black, upside-down umbrellas. One Saturday, there was a talent show, and when the red curtain opened, there was a curtain of the most brilliant apple green this kid had ever seen. I remember being almost startled by that color, which seemed a bit out of place in that auditorium. Even at a very young age, I guess I realized that “going to the show” was more than just a movie.
The Michigan Theatre, 1109-1115 E. Genesee, just south of Cherry St., opened June 28, 1936. This $100,000 theatre was designed by architects Bennett and Straight of Dearborn. The art deco façade of gleaming white, black and red enameled steel (Macotta) was trimmed in blue, green, and yellow. Macotta is a brand name for steel sheeting with an opaque vitreous porcelain-like coating, invented in the 19th century for use on interior and exterior surfaces. High heat and powdered fusible glass created the smooth, shiny finish.
The marquee with bowed sides had enamel finished porcelain to match the colorful steel. Highlighting all of this was 2,000 feet of neon light tubing and recessed lighting. Even this black and white photo shows how dramatic this must have been after dark.
There were two retail stores, one on each side of the entrance at ground level and four apartments on the second floor across the front of the building. All of these were sound-proofed from the theatre. With over 1,200 seats the Michigan was one of the largest neighborhood theatres. Instead of a balcony, it had a shallow mezzanine with a “cry room” as a novel feature. There was air conditioning and earphones for the hearing impaired, as well.
The Michigan opened with a few acts of vaudeville and movies, later turned to just first-run movies, then second-run double features. Saturday matinee programs for kids included special movies, cartoons, and possibly a serial western in an effort to encourage repeat business the following week. The last few years of the Michigan’s operations were devoted to soft-core adult fare. After several changes of ownership, run-ins with the authorities over various charges in the 1960s, and becoming a sad victim of vandalism and neglect, the Michigan closed permanently in May of 1969. Demolition of the Michigan began in late 1985.
For more about the Michigan and other movie theaters, please visit our exhibit, “Stories of Saginaw’s Silver Screens”. In movie theatre parlance: Stories of Saginaw’s Silver Screens will be “back by popular demand, for a limited return engagement”, opening in May. See ya in the movies!
- Barry M. Rindhage, Castle Museum Reception