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State Theatre
StateTheatreAnnArborMarquee.jpg
The State Theatre's distinctive marquee, with the names of upcoming Midnight Movie selections.
Location 233 South State Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States
Owner Michigan Theater Foundation (theaters)
State Theater LLC (retail space)
Operator Michigan Theater Foundation
Construction
Opened March 18, 1942 (1942-03-18)
Renovated 1979; 2017

The State Theatre is an operational former movie palace in Ann Arbor, Michigan, designed by C. Howard Crane in the Art Deco style.

The State was built by W.S. Butterfield Theaters, which also operated the nearby Michigan Theater. The non-profit Michigan Theater Foundation has operated the theater since 1999, complementing the Michigan's programming. The State's current 4 screens are located on the balcony of the former 1900-seat auditorium. A ground-floor retail space replaced the original auditorium's main floor in 1989, housing an Urban Outfitters store until 2020.

The theater's central location and distinctive green, yellow and red marquee have made it an icon of Ann Arbor's downtown.

History

Predecessors

W.S. Butterfield Theaters operated five theaters in Ann Arbor in 1940, including the Majestic Theater on Maynard Street, converted in 1907 from a roller rink. Butterfield planned to renovate the Majestic, but city officials denied permission for the work, prompting the construction of the State. The staff of the Majestic moved to the State, and Butterfield considered the State to be the Majestic's direct replacement.

After it ceased operations, the Majestic was condemned as unsafe due to its primarily wood construction and prohibited from reopening. Butterfield's lease expired at the end of 1942, and the building was demolished in 1948.

Design and construction

In September 1940, Butterfield gave the first indication of building another theater in Ann Arbor when it served notices to vacate to the tenants of its property on South State Street at Liberty Street. Weeks later, plans were revealed for the theater, designed in Art Deco style by Detroit-based movie palace architect C. Howard Crane.

The State was designed as a movie theater, with a small stage and no dressing rooms. The Butterfield circuit continued to use the nearby Michigan for live shows, with both theaters showing first-run movies.

The State opened to great fanfare on March 18, 1942, showing The Fleet's In. Butterfield emphasized that construction had started before the United States entered World War II, and that no materials were taken from the war effort.

Modification

The first major modification to the State was the replacement of the original 18 by 16 feet (5.5 m × 4.9 m) screen with a 43 by 24 feet (13.1 m × 7.3 m) screen in November 1953. The State's balcony and main floor were each divided into two theaters in 1979, decreasing the total capacity by 200 seats. Manager Barry Miller cited economics and the need to book films for longer runs as reasons for the division.

Decline and partial conversion to retail

Butterfield, facing hard times, sold the State to the Kerasotes Theater Corporation of Springfield, Illinois in December 1984. Kerasotes cut costs by dismissing the staff of unionized projectionists, prompting picketing and boycotts that continued into at least 1986.

Kerasotes sold the State to Hogarth Management at a loss in 1989. Hogarth was owned by Tom Borders, founder of Borders Books, whose flagship store was located one block away from the State. Hogarth initially considered converting the entire building to retail space and potentially removing the marquee, but eventually settled on converting only the two downstairs theaters into retail space and retaining the neon-lit marquee.

An Urban Outfitters store opened in the ground floor retail space in August 1989. Remnants of the original theater were visible in the store.

Reopening as theater

Aloha Entertainment, owned by the Spurlin family of Canton, Michigan, leased the space after years of vacancy, adding Hawaiian-themed decor. The theater reopened on November 13, 1992, showing second-run films at discount prices.

A group of local investors bought the building in 1997, and the Aloha Entertainment lease on the theaters was terminated. The investor group hired the Michigan Theater Foundation to provide booking and marketing services in 1999, reuniting the Michigan and State theaters.

Michigan Theater Foundation ownership and restoration

In 2007, the Michigan Theater Foundation, still providing booking and marketing services, developed a contingency plan for the State in case the building's owners wanted to convert the remaining theaters to other uses. A formal proposal was made in 2013 to convert the upstairs theaters to offices or apartments, and the Michigan Theater Foundation responded by making efforts to buy the theaters. An agreement to purchase the theaters, but not the retail space, was reached in 2014.

A major renovation began in 2017, which restored the original Art Deco style. Tiles were custom-made, and the original carpet pattern was recreated from a sample preserved by a local historian. The 2017 renovation divided the space into four fully accessible theaters, featuring improved sight lines and contemporary projection and sound equipment.

COVID-19 pandemic

The State Theatre was temporarily closed from March to October 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The State closed again in mid-November 2020 amid new orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The Urban Outfitters store in the ground-level retail space moved to Briarwood Mall in November 2020.

Programming

The Michigan Theater Foundation operates the State Theatre, and the programming at the State is coordinated with the nearby Michigan. The State shows first run independent films and classics, with regular late night showings of cult favorites.

Coordinates: 42°16′46″N 83°44′26″W / 42.2795°N 83.7405°W / 42.2795; -83.7405

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