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Businessman Angelo Poulos commissioned Detroit architect Maurice Finkel to design his dream: a grand vaudeville and movie palace in Ann Arbor. Constructed and furnished by the W. S. Butterfield Company, which operated several motion picture and vaudeville theaters in the state of Michigan, the theater opened to the public on January 5, 1928. Until the summer of 1929, Michigan events included vaudeville and silent films with live musical accompaniment from the Barton Theater Pipe Organ and Karl Weiderhold's orchestra (shown here). The introduction of "talkies" resulted in the disbanding of the orchestra, the demise of vaudeville, and the beginning of Hollywood's Golden Age.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the theater continued to be Ann Arbor's premiere showplace for live stage entertainment, including national touring theater and opera companies, local community organizations, and University of Michigan events. The largest audiences, however, came for the movies.
In 1956, the Butterfield Theater Company decided to "modernize" the Michigan Theater in an attempt to entice people away from their TVs. The intricate plaster work was covered by aluminum, polished marble, and a false ceiling.
Aldridge, members of the Motor City Theater Organ Society, and philanthropist Margaret D. Towsley prompted many to join the fight to save the organ and theater. In particular, then-Mayor Louis Belcher convinced a reluctant city council to purchase the theater and, in 1982, convinced area citizens to dissolve the theater’s mortgage debt.
Today, the Michigan Theater continues to be an essential part of Ann Arbor's cultural fabric. Presenting specialty films, serving as home to the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, and offering the Not Just for Kids series of live-on-stage programs for children and families, the Michigan remains "a Shrine to Art. . . and a credit to the community."