NATIONAL THEATER--DETROIT, MI
(Partially Lost)

Official Title of Installation, if any:

National Theater

Materials Used:
Ceramic tiles and white terra cotta
Additional Materials Information:
General Description:
The front facade of the National is dominated by an enormous arch flanked with twin towers and covered with white and blue terra cotta tiles. The facade has hundreds of lightbulbs built in, which accentuate the architectural features when lit. The National Theater is an outstanding example of Modernistic design, boasting a pair of terra cotta latticework towers, arched art glass windows, and colored Pewabic tiles on the facade. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monroe_Avenue_Commercial_
Buildings#National_Theatre_.28118_Monroe_Avenue.29)
Technical Information (Size,mfg., etc.):
Tiles and terra cotta manufactured by Pewabic Pottery, Detroit, Michigan
Year Created:
1911
Year Installed, if different:
Does Installation Still Exist?
Partially
If Not, What Happened?
The theater has been closed since the 1970s. The building has deteriorated since then, and, although attempts have been made to repair the building, work has not progressed during the past few years. It is not known if any of the interior decorations still exist.
State:
Michigan
City:
Detroit
Location of Installation:
118 Monroe Street
GPS Coordinates:
Directions to Installation:
Additional Information, Websites, Citations:
The Monroe Avenue Commercial Buildings, also known as the Monroe Block,
 is a historic district located along a block-and-a-half stretch at 16-118 Monroe Avenue in Detroit, Michigan, just off Woodward Avenue at the northern end of Campus Martius. The district was designated a Michigan State Historic Site in 1974 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The thirteen original buildings were built between 1852 and 1911 and ranged from two to five stories in height. The National Theatre, built in 1911, is the oldest surviving theatre in Detroit, a part of the city's original theatre district of the late 19th century, and the sole surviving structure from the original Monroe Avenue Commercial Buildings of the Antebellum period. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monroe_Avenue_Commercial_Buildings) The 800-seat National Theater, built in 1911, is the only known theatre designed by Albert Kahn and the oldest surviving theatre from the city's original theatre district of the 19th century. It operated as a movie theater until the 1920s, when competition from larger movie houses forced a change to a vaudeville venue. The National survived as a burlesque and adult entertainment theater until it closed in the 1970s. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monroe_Avenue_Commercial_
Buildings#National_Theatre_.28118_Monroe_Avenue.29

"Kahn designed numerous buildings throughout Detroit. However, the National would be his only theater. He covered its exterior entirely with terra-cotta pewabic tiles in white and blue. The neo-baroque design was dominated by a massive arched window, flanking towers with gold domes, and two watchful eagles. This decoration gave the theater an elaboratly ornate appearance in the daylight. Yet, the best time to see it was at night. Built into the facade were hundreds of lightbulbs. When the sun set the theater became a true visual feast. 


The interiors were equally impressive. The arrangement was typical of the early movie houses. The lobby was a narrow space covered entirely with tan pewabic tiles. From here people passed into a tasteful auditorium containing 800 seats. Most of these were situated on the main floor. The remainder were on a sizable balcony and accessed with stairways in the side towers. The interior continued the decorative treatment of the exterior with a feast of plaster and colorful stencilwork." (http://www.forgottendetroit.com/national/history.html)


(AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit, Eric J. Hill, 
John Gallagher, American Institute of Architects. Detroit Chapter, 2003, p. 98)

Photographs taken in 2010, courtesy of Michael Padwee.