by Rebecca Binno
Photography by Michael Hauser
Distinctive architecture in small suburbs like Lincoln Park is usually a rare thing to find. And these days it is a rare thing that has not been demolished for a strip commercial retail center. That's the case for the Lincoln Park Theater at 1583 West Fort Street and O'Connor Street (near Southfield Road).
Built in 1925 by Mr. M. R. Levy, and designed by prominent Detroit theater architect C. Howard Crane, the Park Theater originally sat 600. C. Howard Crane also designed the Fox, State and Capitol (now the Detroit Opera House) Theaters in Detroit, as well as over 250 theaters in the United States.
An article from 1925 describes the Park Theater's beautiful polychrome chandeliers, velour drapes and cork aisle floors (to allow noiseless walking). Because movies were silent in 1925, a three manual pipe organ was scheduled to be installed, but it never materialized. The theory and value behind Hollywood movies of the 1920s was also explained in the article:
"Motion pictures inspire better looking homes; movie fans may learn how to dress and conduct themselves properly; they especially benefit the young as it gives them a way to fill their leisure time respectably and profitably. The Park Theater opening will mark an epoch-making day in the theatrical life of Lincoln Park, and every one here owes a debt of gratitude to those who made this showhouse possible." Theater History At Christmas in 1934, at the height of the Depression, the manager of the Lincoln Park theater issued free admission tickets as a gesture to the Lincoln Parkers who could not afford it otherwise. In the World War II era, the theater was used as a campaign headquarters for war bond rallies to raise money for the war efforts. There were food drives for needy families overseas, and Lincoln Park children were admitted to the film programs for a can of food.
The theater was remodeled and the original vertical marquee and canopy were replaced with a porcelain enameled steel vertical marquee. The current design is a symmetrical stepped vertical marquee that was originally lit with neon. The storefront lobby windows have been filled with siding and the Fort Street doors have been replaced with fire doors that open from the interior.
The Park has been a pornographic theater since the mid-1970s. City officials and citizens' groups battled with the x-rated establishment and it was the subject of federal lawsuits. The Park's adult entertainment center is now only accessible from a fenced parking lot entrance, and it has kept its presence toned down.
Today The Park is threatened with demolition, as many structures in the Lincoln Park area have been recently due to strip mall developments.
Additionally, Lincoln Park, a city of just six square miles, has a total of 20 gas stations. That's a high amount compared to half that number in neighboring communities. Mayor Frank Sall recently told the Detroit News that he "does not want the image of Lincoln Park to be reflected by a gas station on every corner. We want to attract those types of businesses that will be more conductive to our community."
The Detroit Area Art Deco Society hopes that the city of Lincoln Park can recognize that the Park Theater is a significant building to the community, despite its current use. Hopefully, the Park Theater can be reused again to contribute to the community and its architectural streetscape.