Detroit Opera House History
Located on the corners of Broadway and Madison at Grand Circus Park, what is now known as the Detroit Opera House was originally opened as the Capitol Theater on January 12, 1922. At the time of its gala premiere, the 4,250-seat theater claimed to be the fifth largest in the world. The theater was the first in a series of palatial vaudeville and moving picture houses built in the Grand Circus Park area in the 1920s. Designed by renowned Detroit architect C. Howard Crane, whose genius for theater design took him to cities around the nation, the building was constructed with superb acoustics and in the style of the grand European opera houses. Crane also designed such Detroit landmarks as the Fox Theater, The Fillmore (formerly the State Theater), and the acoustically perfect Orchestra Hall.
The Capitol Theater was resplendently decorated in the Italian Renaissance style with lavish crystal chandeliers, frescoes, brass fixtures, marble stairways and drinking fountains. Rich rose-red Italian damask was used for the mainstage curtain and draperies throughout the house. Most of these features are still present today in the Detroit Opera House.
In the fall of 1929, the Capitol Theater became the Paramount Theater and, in 1934, was renamed the Broadway Capitol Theater. Within the first few decades, the grand theater hosted such luminaries as Will Rogers, Louis Armstrong, Betty Hutton, Guy Lombardo and Duke Ellington; and later, Gale Storm, Sal Mineo and many of the rock and roll stars of the 1950s.
After several years of near decay, the theater underwent a minor restoration in 1960. The renamed and reconfigured 3,367-seat Grand Circus Theater became a movie house once again. The Grand Circus Theater closed its doors in 1978 and reopened under the same name in 1981. From 1981 to 1985 the theater ran intermittently, presenting a diversity of entertainment from mainstream artists Ray Charles and Roy Orbison to an alternative rock series entitled "Grand Circus Live." The 1922 palace closed its doors for the last time in November of 1985 after a small fire.
After years of neglect, the Detroit Opera House was beautifully restored in 1996, when the nomadic Michigan Opera Theatre decided to transform the former Capitol Theater into a permanent home. With the oversight of Michigan Opera Theatre general director Dr. David DiChiera, the Detroit Opera House was marvelously restored. Today, the Detroit Opera House is home to Michigan Opera Theatre, and the Detroit home to many of the world’s best dance companies, Broadway shows and concerts.
Backstage ToursJoin the Opera House Ambassadors for a backstage tour of the Detroit Opera House. Learn about the history of the Opera House and its restoration. Meet the people behind the scenes, tour the stage and see how it operates. Tours are $10.00 per person. For more information, please call (313) 237-3279.