The National Theatre was built in 1911 and was located at 118 Monroe Street, near Farmer Street, in downtown Detroit’s Greektown district. The National Theatre was designed in Baroque-Beaux Arts by noted Detroit-architect, Albert Kahn. The National Theatre was Kahn’s only theater that he would design, but it could not have been more special.
The National Theatre’s exterior was covered in glorious, white terra cotta and gloss, tile-work from Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery. It featured our nation’s bird, two bald eagles, that adorned the exterior façade above each side of the main entrance. The front façade included many carved, stone rosettes that arched over the theatre’s main entrance. There was also a white, stone face that protruded from the exterior of the theatre, directly above the main entrance. The National Theatre also had two-twin, 64-foot high, gold-domed, towers on each side of the building. For the National Theatre’s first few decades, the front façade was lite up at night, by hundreds of little light bulbs. The interior of the National Theatre was just as beautiful as the exterior. The theatre had a suspended, plaster, detailed-interior, with a brick-backdrop as the supporting structure. The auditorium had upper balcony seating, but it also had two side towers on each side of the upper balcony, that led to smaller “special” balcony seating. Patrons had to reach these areas of “special” seating from the main floor entrances, one on each side of the stage. An iron, spiral staircase would lead patrons up to the second-floor, to these special balcony seats. Today, it would be known as the “VIP” seats, as they were considered to be the “best seats in the house.” The corridor walls of the theatre were decorated with intricate, hand-painted, floral-like, designs. The National Theatre certainly became an attraction to see and it brought theatre-goers from all over to come see the National Theatre. At the time of the opening of the National Theatre, Monroe Street was one of Detroit’s main avenues for entertainment, with the National Theatre as the masterpiece.
The National Theatre originally opened as a live-act and vaudeville venue, but changed to motion pictures within a short amount of time. In the 1940s, the National Theater became “Detroit’s biggest and best” burlesque theater. It was very popular and continued as a burlesque theater into the 1960’s. In the 1970’s, burlesque was fading fast and the National Theater was forced to close. It re-opened a short time later as The Palace. The Palace specialized in adult movies. The Palace didn’t last long, however, and was closed it 1975.
Since the National Theatre closed in 1975, the building went through many different owners and even more failed plans of redevelopment. Dreams of turning the historic theater into a restaurant, night club, residential lofts, and even another theater, have all come and gone over the years. The theatre has been heavily damaged by water, wind, heat, and scrapping. Unfortunately, the National Theatre is literally a shell of what it used to be. The intricate, plaster-work on the interior is slowly falling apart and the paint is also peeling in several different spots throughout the building. All of the theater’s seats have also been removed.
As of 2015, the National Theatre is still standing. It is the only remaining building on the south east side of Monroe Street. There are currently no plans for redevelopment, renovation, or demolition.