Visitors from all over the region come to the Michigan Theater to see new, independent, unique, and award-winning films and performances. With many movies playing each day and regularly occurring live performances by instrumentalists, comedians, dancers and singers, there’s always something fun and interesting happening at the Michigan Theater. Many visitors aren’t aware, however, of the Michigan Theater’s deep history and cultural significance in Ann Arbor.
The Michigan Theater opened in 1928, before ‘’talkies’’ (movies with sound) were introduced. At the time, events at the theater included vaudeville, silent films with live musical accompaniment, national touring theater and opera companies, and University of Michigan events. In the 1930s and 1940s, ‘’talkies’’ took over as the top draw for audiences as Hollywood entered its storied Golden Age. The theater’s success continued through the 50s and 60s, until 1979 - when the longtime owners ceased operations when multiplex cinemas became the theaters of choice for movie-goers and the Michigan Theater’s prominence seemed to be a thing of the past. The theater’s resurgence began in the 1980s when Ann Arbor mayor Louis Belcher persuaded the city council to purchase the theater and hired a new management company – who brought back live music and stage events as well as classic films and ongoing curated film series. The original Barton Theatre Pipe Organ, originally installed in 1927, is still played every Thursday through Monday prior to evening movies – a truly unique experience for film-goers! The Michigan Theater is truly an indispensable piece of history in Ann Arbor and a can’t-miss for visitors to Washtenaw County.
When attending an event at the Michigan Theater, history buffs won’t want to miss the Ford Gallery of Ann Arbor Founders. Located in the corridor connecting the Auditorium and smaller Screening Room, the Ford Gallery is an exhibit highlighting many important and intriguing pieces of the history of Ann Arbor – including women’s contributions to the community, early settlers in the area, abolitionists and the Civil War, and much more. A total of twenty historical markers line the corridor and are sure to ignite curiosity and delight in any visitor interested in the history of our beautiful city.