Ann Arbor in Washtenaw County, Michigan — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
Downtown Movie Theaters
When the Orpheum opened in 1913 at 326 South Main Street, the event drew such a crowd that people had to be turned away. Constructed by clothier J. Fred Wuerth, it was the first theater in town built to show movies. Earlier, one-reel films were shown in storefront nickelodeons like the Star at 118 East Washington Street (lower right). Advertised as "family entertainment," many shows included live acts.
In 1917, behind this clothing shop next door to the Orpheum, Wuerth built a second theater. Movie-goers entered below Wuerth's Main Street marquee (shown above in the 1940s) and passed through a two-story, skylit arcade that led to the theater. The L-shaped plan allowed the two theaters to share backstage space and a single theater organ.
In early 1929 the Wuerth was the first local theater to convert from silent films to "talkies." While the Orpheum specialized in more high-toned productions, the smaller, cozier Wuerth showed children's serialized matinees and gave away china to attract viewers. After both theaters closed in 1957, the interior spaces were remodeled for new uses. By 1927 Wuerth's menswear business had become
Bottom right images caption:
One of four early storefront theaters downtown, The Star — "cool and comfortable" — featured vaudeville acts in addition to five-cent films. It was the site of a famous 1908 riot when more than a thousand UM students stormed, looted, and sacked the theater. The combined efforts of the police and fire departments, even UM President James Angell, failed to quell the disturbance.
Sponsored by Ralph P. Beebe
Photos courtesy of Wystain A. Stevens and the Bentley Historical Library
Erected by Ann Arbor Historical Foundation.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Entertainment. A significant historical year for this entry is 1913.
Location. 42° 16.78′ N, 83° 44.902′ W. Marker is in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in Washtenaw County. Marker is at the intersection of East Liberty Street and South Main Street, on the left when traveling east on East Liberty Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 223 South Main Street, Ann Arbor MI 48103, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Changing Retail Patterns (here, next to this marker); Main Street Shopping Expands (a few steps from this marker); The Main Street Shopping Experience (within shouting distance of this marker); Business and Banking (within shouting distance of this marker); First National Building (within shouting distance of this marker); Hardware (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Dry Goods (about 300 feet away); Eating and Drinking in Ann Arbor (about 400 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Ann Arbor.
Also see . . .
1. Student Riot of 1908. Web page on the Ann Arbor District Library's website that describes the student riot — apparently the result of the owner of The Star theater trying to convince a University of Michigan football player to intentionally lose a game. (Submitted on September 19, 2020, by Joel Seewald of Madison Heights, Michigan.)
2. History Lessons: A Show and a Riot. Article on the University of Michigan Alumni Association's website about the aftermath of the riot — and various theories about what started it. (Submitted on September 19, 2020, by Joel Seewald of Madison Heights, Michigan.)
Credits. This page was last revised on September 19, 2020. It was originally submitted on September 19, 2020, by Joel Seewald of Madison Heights, Michigan. This page has been viewed 124 times since then and 6 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on September 19, 2020, by Joel Seewald of Madison Heights, Michigan.