Historic Detroit

Orchestra Hall

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra had the classical music equivalent of a rock star. And his contract was up.

Conductor Ossip Gabrilowitsch would renew on one condition: His roaming orchestra was given its first home. Luckily, Detroit was rolling in cash thanks to the auto industry.

Incredibly, the building was financed, planned and built in just six months, debuting Oct. 23, 1919.

“No other city in the country has made such a record in artistic lines,” the Detroit Free Press crowed the next day. “The need of Detroit for the last decade and more has at last been realized.”

The building was designed by master theater architect C. Howard Crane, who designed many of the city’s movie palaces.

The song the DSO chose to play for the “dedication of the house”? The national anthem.

But the DSO suffered greatly during the Depression and saw receipts drop after Gabrilowitsch died in 1936. Three years later, in a cost-saving move, the DSO moved to the Masonic Temple. The grand concert hall would sit empty for the next two years, until Christmas Eve 1941, when it reopened as the Paradise Theatre. For the next 10 years, this would be Detroit’s top spot for live jazz, from Billie Holiday to Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington to Ella Fitzgerald.

But tastes change, and the Jazz Era had come and gone. The Paradise closed, and the acts hit up the Graystone Ballroom a bit further north on Woodward instead. The next few decades would see a rotting Orchestra Hall nearly demolished.

For two decades, it would rot. With demolition looming, Save Orchestra Hall was launched. After a herculean, $6.8 million battle that stretched out over nearly 20 years, the DSO finally returned home for good Sept. 15, 1989.

More on this landmark coming soon.