Forgotten Detroit
Adams Theater


The Adams in 1917.

Designed by C. Howard Crane, the Adams Theater first opened on September 1, 1917 as a legitimate house offering 1770 seats. After less then a year of operation the theater switched over to movies. It was the second movie theater on Grand Circus Park. The Madison Theater beat the Adams by a few months.

The Adams was a rare breed of theaters known as 'alley jumpers'. This meant that the theater was housed in a separate building on cheaper property while the entrance and lobby were in another building on more expensive property. In the Adams case its entrance and lobby were housed in the Fine Arts Building, a 7-story office building facing Grand Circus Park that had been built in 1905. The older Fine Arts was connected to the new Adams auditorium by an elevated walkway and tunnel. Patrons with tickets for the main floor would take the tunnel under the alley and those with seats in the balcony would go over the alley via the elevated walkway.

The interiors reflected a style far simpler then Crane's later United Artists Theater. Simple floral plaster panels were set around the stage and boxes. These were painted in a rainbow of rich colors. The theater had side boxes on both sides of the stage. These reflected its origins as a legitimate house. Sides boxes were rare in later movie theaters, their place often taken by organs. As with his later United Artists, Crane installed two balconies. The lower balcony was dwarfed by this upper cousin. However, Crane's engineering was limited at this point and both balconies required the support of columns. Nearly all of the theater's original charm and decorative plaster was removed or obscured by 60s renovations. Patrons were now presented with a blue box.

The now destroyed marquee.

By the 1980s the theater struggled with the decline of Grand Circus Park. The Adams' fare now included porn films. In an effort to complete with suburban multiplexes the theater was again renovated in 1986. On this occasion the upper balcony was split into two additional auditoriums. The presence of three screens did not help and by November of 1988 the theater closed. The end had finally come when a group of movie-going youths engaged in a gun battle in the middle of a screening. A popular theory explaining the theater's closing is found a few blocks down. In 1988 the nearby Fox Theater reopened after an extensive renovation. Both buildings where owned by Mike Ilitch, the Red Wings/Little Caesar's baron. Its been said that Ilitch didn't want it known that the Fox was owned by the owners of the 'porn palace' so the Adams when bye bye. Why, after the hugely successful revitalization of the Fox, Ilitch never made any efforts to save the Adams is unknown.

Ilitch has made some actions on the property in recent years. In November 1999, the old Adams marquee, a product of the 60's, was torn off the building. A ugly bare brick facade and a few black boards are all that remain to remind pedestrians what stands there. Only time will tell if the rest of the theater will follow the marquee into memory.

Copyright 1999 - 2005, David Kohrman
Last updated on November 18, 2005