Historic Detroit

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

Family Theatre

There's something coincidentally creepy about a movie house built as the Family Theatre burning to the ground playing the movie "Deep Throat."

Talk about a flick burning up the screen.

The theater opened May 3, 1909, on land bounded by Woodward Avenue, Monroe Street and Cadillac Square. Its location on Campus Martius, in the heart of downtown Detroit, made it the ideal spot for a theater.

Instead of tearing down a building and erecting a new one, Fuller Claflin carved a theater out of the Kirkwood Hotel, which dated to 1880.

The Family originally showed Vaudeville, but was converted to films in 1914. For nearly 60 years, the Family entertained Detroiters. Though, like many theaters in the city during the 1960s and '70s, the Family started showing adult films. Creepily, it kept the Family Theatre name for part of this XXX run. It eventually became known as the Follies Theatre.

On July 26, 1973, a five-alarm fire destroyed the old landmark during a showing of the notorious skin flick "Deep Throat." There were 30 to 40 people watching the film at the time. The fire raged for about four hours. Flames broke through a fire wall separating the theater from the Cadillac Square Building, though the skyscraper sustained only smoke damage.

The next day's Detroit Free Press contained both a front-page article about the massive fire at the Follies as well as an ad for "Deep Throat" showing there later that night. (Obviously, the ad had been purchased in advance of the fire.)

The theater was deemed unsalvageable - and having a theater showing porn on the city center and across from Old City Hall didn't win it much sympathy, either. The building was torn down shortly thereafter. Sadly, the rest of the surrounding buildings on Monroe and Cadillac Square soon joined it.