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Gem Theatre

2001 Photo from the Adam Martin collection.
333 Madison St
Detroit MI

Visit Website Live Theatre
Record #9919  
 Opened: 1928
Capacity: 453 seats
Architect(s): George Mason
Architectural Style(s):
National Register:
Current Organ: none
 Also Known As: Little, Rivoli, Drury Lane, Europa, Cinema, World, Vanguard

The Little Theater was built for a private women's organization called the Century Club and opened on September 7, 1928, with a production of Cyrano de Bergerac. It had a full stage, theater organ and orchestra pit, and a balcony that seated about 200.

The theater was renamed the Rivoli in 1932, the Drury Lane in 1935 and the Europa later that same year. In 1936 it was again renamed the Cinema, a name that stuck through the late 1950s, specializing in foreign and indy films.

Briefly known as the World in 1958, it became the Vanguard Playhouse in 1959, switching exclusively to stage shows on Christmas Day. The theater began a slow decline in the spring of 1964, and started showing adult films as the Gem Art from 1966 to 1978 when it closed.

The building was then purchased by Charles Forbes, who also owned the State Theater, in 1984, and was restored over the next 18 months. Renamed the Gem, the theater reopened with a production of "The All-Night Strut!" on New Years Eve, 1991.

The Gem made news again in 1997. After negotiating for months with the Detroit-Wayne County Stadium Authority, Forbes decided to move the theater to a new location five blocks away.

Originally located at Columbia and Witherell, the Gem was dwarfed by the State and Fox Theatres across Woodward Avenue. The theater and its adjoining building, the Century Club, look more at home at Madison and Brush, near the Music Hall and the Detroit Opera House.

The move also places the theater in the Guinness Book of World Records. Weighing in at more than five million pounds, the building is twice as heavy as any other building ever moved on wheels. As a crowd of 200 cheered on, the Gem arrived at its new home on November 11, 1997.

The theater reopened on September 9, 1998.

 Photos remain the property of the Member and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the Member.

July 2001 photos from the Adam Martin collection.

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Last featured 11/28/2004. Last edited 4/15/2010.

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