Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Columbia Theatre

The Columbia was the first movie theater in the city of Detroit. And like many of the theaters that would follow it, was designed by C. Howard Crane.

The 1,006-seat theater opened Oct. 2, 1911, to a packed house. It was built in the city's entertainment district along Monroe Avenue, just northeast of Campus Martius, full of live theater, vaudeville and nickelodeons.

The Columbia was also the first theater in Detroit to feature an orchestra providing the soundtrack to the film, as well as the first with an organ. It was also the first true moviehouse opened by John H. Kunsky, who also owned the city's first nickelodeon, the Casino. Kunsky would become the city's most successful movie theater operator, and he had Crane design many of his entertainment establishments.

When it wasn't showing films, it showed vaudeville acts.

The Columbia was an "alley jumper": You'd enter the theater on Monroe, buy your ticket and snacks, and then cross over the alley to the theater on the other side. The theater itself was actually located directly behind the Gregory, Mayer & Thom Co. Building. This was done because real estate in the alley was far cheaper than the prominent land along Monroe.

Long passed over by the glitzier movie palaces that followed in its trailblazing footsteps, the Columbia closed in 1956. Some newspaper articles written some 30 years later say the theater was razed immediately after its closure, but that has not been confirmed.

What is clear is that it was demolished before the rest of the historic Monroe Block in 1990. Do you remember when that was? Contact us at [email protected].