Detroit's Eastown Theater, which began showing movies in 1931, was the first truly grand abandoned theater I've photographed. It is only fairly recently that this building became a ruin, and despite its location in a notoriously rough part of town, most of the damage here has been due to exposure to the elements.
The movie house closed in 1967, and the building was converted to a hall for rock concerts two years later. Rock bands at the height of their international fame, including The Who, The Kinks, Cream, Fleetwood Mac, Jefferson Airplane, and many others played here. Local Detroit bands such as the MC5 also performed here, and the neighborhood, even then considered rough, lent an air of legitimacy to these proto-punk hard rock bands. Drug dealers had free reign to do business in the Eastown, while concert-goers might find their tape decks or tires stolen upon returning to their cars after the show.
Community concerns led to revoked licenses for the operation of the theater, and it held shows only sporadically through the latter-half of the 1970s.Community acts took place at the Eastown in the 1980s, but these ventures foundered in the 1990s. Later in the 1990s raves occurred in the still lavishly decorated theater, and lastly a church group took over the site, mainly to house members in the adjacent apartment building.
The group started offering the building for sale about 2004, but found no takers and the Eastown was abandoned. Holes in the roof led to severe deterioration of interior architectural details, and 1970s replacement seats were recently removed. Today prostitutes ply their trade in and around the building, and undercover narcotics agents look for drug dealers or anyone who might be a patron, as there really isn't much of another reason to spend an afternoon in the area. Except to photograph the sad decay of a once-beautiful movie house and legendary rock concert venue.
My guide Randy from DetroitFunk.com kept a lookout while I snapped away some overview shots of the theater interior. He also managed to grab some great fisheye photos of the theater and photos of the ballroom in the process.
salvagers looted details from
the building's roof this past
year, and the office building shown intact above caught
fire in the summer of 2010. The Eastown Theater is also featured on the
cover of the 2010 publication Lost
Detroit by Dan
Austin and Sean Doerr.
Just as I was about to publish this page, the office building portion burned again, on November 29, 2010, leaving only the theater and ballroom (left half of the building as shown above) still standing.
This and all interiors, November 2010.
View from the stage.
The dome above the balcony is in perfect condition.
Despite severe water damage, many painted details remain.
This page copyright © 2010 by Robert J. Yasinsac.
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