National Theatre, 118 Monroe, Detroit

When I was a kid I discovered "The Buildings of Detroit" by W. Hawkins Ferry in the tiny architecture section of Budimir Library in Windsor, and would borrow the book on an endless repeated cycle, lugging the folio volume back and forth from home in the basket of my gold banana seated bike. This image (which I've here snitched) was in it - an emblem of everything magical that a building could be. This was in an area of downtown Detroit that my parents wouldn't take me despite my pestering. It was only much later that I discovered that the building was even better in person, vibrant punctuations of Pewabic tile colour against a crackled cream backdrop, like a medina gate in Marrakesh or somewhere equally more remarkable than suburban Windsor.

 

The front of this building is a lacework of glazed terra cotta blocks, inset with gilded backlighting provided by the newly emergent electric lighting. Though I had never managed to get to this building pre abandonment, I can imagine the facade must have glowed, with the tile a rippling liquid backdrop, a cinematic portal to hollywood.

 

The theatre could seat 2200 people. It started out showing Vaudville, which turned into Burlesk (sic) and finally cheap strippers. In the 50's it had become the Palace and by the time I was in my banana seat it was closed for good. The National is still standing on Monroe Street, a sole survivor in a block swallowed by parking garages.

 

On one of my later visits to the National, I was very politely mugged out front by a fellow collecting money for "children with aids". As one of his friends ambling about flashed his Frankenmuth or Mackinac Island fliers quickly under my nose I gave him the money in my pocket and we chatted about how beautiful the colour of green was in tiles were above the marquee. We shook hands and they hoped I'd enjoy myself in Detroit.

 

 

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Uploaded on November 17, 2009