The Eastown Theatre was built from 1926-1930 and was located at 8041 Harper, near the intersection of Van Dyke Avenue, on Detroit’s desolate east side. The Eastown Theatre was designed by architect, V.J. Waier, in a Neo-Renaissance architectural style. The Eastown Theatre had a huge auditorium that sat up to 2,500 patrons. The Eastown Theatre also had an interior that was unmatched in the city. The interior of the Eastown Theatre was designed with a blend of both Spanish and Italian-Baroque styles, with giant arches, intricate and decorative plaster, vaulted ceilings, ornate crowns, sculpted walls, hand-painted details, and an imported-marble lobby.
The Eastown Theatre was built as a movie palace, but ended up being known more for it’s contribution to rock n’ roll. The Eastown Theatre had an attached building that featured office space, retail space, and residential apartments. There was also the Eastown Ballroom, which was a smaller auditorium, with an oak dance-floor. The Eastown Ballroom could fit up to 300 patrons and was used for banquets, weddings, and other special events. The Eastown Theatre closed down in 1967, but would soon open back up for rock concerts.
With the massive influx and influence in America, it was evident that rock n’ roll came to the Eastown Theatre. In 1969, the Eastown Theatre switched from showing movies, to a rock concert venue. The Eastown Theatre hosted a number of great rock n’ rollers through the years as a concert venue. Some of the acts included, Detroit’s own Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, MC5, and Bob Segar. The Eastown Theatre also attracted national acts as well, such as, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, and the Grateful Dead. The Eastown Theatre became a largely popular rock concert venue for the east side, as the Grande Ballroom served rockers on the west side of Detroit. The Eastown Theatre attracted many different audiences; from drug-using, hippies all the way to the sober, white-collar, auto workers. The Eastown Theatre played a major role in the history of rock n’ roll in Detroit, as well as the whole United States. Unfortunately, drug became rampant, there was constant noise pollution, and the audiences got crazier then ever. In 1973, the Eastown Theatre was shut down by city officials and the Detroit Police.
The Eastown Theatre’s reign didn’t end there and it reopened in 1976 as the Showcase Theater, and it served as a venue for live jazz music, but the neighborhood had become so bad that nobody wanted to come see a show. The Showcase Theater closed in 1979.
In 1980, the Detroit Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) started staging professional theater, children’s plays, educational plays, and acting workshops at the Eastown Theatre. DCPA occupied the building for about fifteen years, but the Eastown Theatre’s structure began to fall apart. The DCPA tried hard to do fundraising events to try and restore the historic theater, but it was to no avail. The DCPA eventually moved out of the Eastown Theatre in 1995.
In the late 1990’s, while the Eastown Theatre became a popular “rave” spot for the new millennium kids, it seems a church organization took over the building. The church used the theater for mass and housed some residents in the Eastown’s apartments. The church tried to sell the Eastown Theatre, but it wouldn’t sell. In 2009, the church left the location and the Eastown Theatre was abandoned.
After the Eastown Theatre became abandoned in 2009, it quickly took a turn for the worse and crossed into the point of no return. Scrappers had removed everything of any value and a large fire destroyed the building’s apartments. The paint had peeled away, the plaster-work had deteriorated, the curtains had fallen, the seats came up missing, the marble had crumbled, and the ceiling was leaking and causing major water damage throughout the structure.
In 2014, the scrappers were still getting every last piece of metal out of the building. Unfortunately, this meant that it was a matter of time before the buildings I-beams and supportive structure was scrapped. When it finally happened, the whole ceiling of the auditorium had collapsed onto the theater’s upper balcony. The weight of all that, eventually caused the balcony to collapse as well. The ceiling and balcony both stand in piles of rubble and the entire structure of the Eastown Theatre is nearly gone. Sadly, the historic building is very dangerous to enter and needs to be demolished as soon as possible.
As of 2015, the Eastown Theatre still sits in shambles. It is truly a sad sight of what used to be an elegant, gorgeous, and historic theater.
The Eastown Theatre in 2008:
The Eastown Theatre in 2010:
The Eastown Theatre in 2014: