Preservation Magazine, Summer 2018

A Historic Michigan Theater Refuses to Exit Stage Right

The facade of the Capitol Theatre.

photo by: The Whiting Auditorium

The Capitol Theatre once featured pipe organs, cloud machines, and lighting effects that mimicked the sun rising and setting.

Located in the heart of downtown Flint, Michigan, the Capitol Theatre opened in 1928 as a vaudeville house. Architect John Eberson aimed to evoke an outdoor Roman piazza inside with faux-marble columns and a twilight blue domed ceiling dotted with tiny lights. Over the years, the Capitol would evolve into a movie palace and grunge rock venue before closing in 1996.

Nearly two decades later, Uptown Reinvestment Corporation partnered with The Whiting, a prominent local performing arts venue, to revive the Capitol. In addition to restoring the theater’s blade sign, updating rigging and lighting systems, and repainting its proscenium arch, they removed a non-historic third-story addition that had destroyed both the facade’s symmetry and some of its terra cotta formwork. Using molds made from the surviving examples, the formwork was meticulously replicated.

After 14 months of restoration work, the theater reopened in December. The Whiting continues to solicit feedback from audience members before adding the finishing touches, and plans on having the Capitol completed by early autumn.

“[The Capitol] was a focal point for the community, and it will be again,” says Jarret M. Haynes, executive director of The Whiting. “To be able to breathe new life into this gem of a facility and unleash its artistic and economic power is just phenomenal.”

Nicholas Som is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He enjoys museums of all kinds, Philadelphia sports, and tracking down great restaurants.

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