The curtains were literally coming down Monday afternoon on the Main Art theater in Royal Oak as a crew worked to demolish the 80-year-old venue, a showcase of independent cinema in Metro Detroit since the 1990s.
Red curtains lining the walls and rows of theater chairs could be seen from the gaping hole in the back of the building, where crews were using an excavator to tear down the brick walls, while simultaneously spraying water on the scene to keep the dust down.
“I’ve been coming here every 20-30 minutes just taking pictures; it’s just so sad,” said film fan Lee Rosenbloom, a member of Friends of the Main Art, a nonprofit group that worked to try to save the historic cinema. “I can’t believe they did it on a Monday morning.”
Rosenbloom said he’s a longtime Royal Oak resident and he “goes to movies all the time.”
“When I saw one of the screens on the big theater (come down) my heart was just broken,” he said, adding that he had to go to the MJR Troy last weekend to see a movie that would have definitely played at the Main Art, had it not closed. Still, he knows attendance was down, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They tried,” Rosenbloom said. “I pass this theater two to four times a day … and even before the pandemic people just weren’t coming. … The last time I can remember a packed house was when (2019’s Academy Award-winning film) ‘Parasite’ was here.”
The three-screen movie house permanently closed its doors in June 2021. The theater, at the corner of 11 Mile and Main, was a downtown Royal Oak staple since it opened in 1941 and was known as a destination for viewing independent and foreign films since the 1990s.
In April, The Detroit News reported that the theater is being torn down to make room for North Main Square, a five-story, multi-use building of office, retail and residences that is being proposed at the site by A.F. Jonna Management and Development Co.
The city of Royal Oak and the developer couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Jason Krzysiak of Friends of the Main Art called Monday’s demolition “a painful blow to the arts in our region” but hopes to harness the love people have for the Main Art into something positive.
“Our goal is to bring all the Friends of the Main Art together and create a community-run space for independent cinema in a new building,” he told The Detroit News. “We are asking all film lovers across Detroit and the state to join us in this effort.”
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