Historic Royal Oak theater falls to the wrecker’s ball

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The three-screen Main Art Theater in Royal Oak, Michigan, met its fate as it fell to the wrecking ball Monday to make room for a five-story multi-use new development. Located at the corner of 11 Mile and Main,  the theater was a downtown staple since it opened its doors in 1941.

Originally a single-screen theater with 800 seats, it opened on August 7, 1941, by Robert Anthony. In 1983, the original 800-seat theater was split into two theaters during renovations, and a third theater was added to the building in 1993.

Known as a destination for viewing independent and foreign films since the 1990s, in the summer of 1999, the Main Art was one of only 15 theaters in North America showing The Blair Witch Project. At that time, every show on the schedule was sold out, with people coming from as far away as Indiana and upstate New York to see the movie.

The Main Art also specialized in midnight showings of classic films from the early 20th century to the present day. Movies such as North by Northwest, The Goonies, and Ghost in the Shell, along with cult films like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, played to audiences, many as theater regulars.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Main Art temporarily closed its doors in March 2020 before reopening on Christmas Day later that year. In April 2021, the Main Art temporarily closed again due to financial constraints. On June 12, 2021, the Main Art closed down permanently when Landmark Theatres ended their lease of the building and returned the property to A.F. Jonna Management & Development

The three-screen movie theater permanently closed its doors in June 2021.  Immediately upon its closure, a nonprofit group called Friends of Main Art Theater was formed to preserve the historic building. The group’s goal, according to the site description, “is to foster and develop public appreciation of independent film and the arts, and to preserve the Royal Oak Main Art building as a movie theater for the enjoyment of the greater Metro Detroit community.

In May 2022, the Royal Oak City Council voted to allow A.F. Jonna Management & Development to demolish the Main Art Theater and construct a mixed-use apartment complex on the theater site. The Main Art was officially demolished on the afternoon of July 25, 2022.

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