Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts is a magnificent, fully restored 1928 historic theatre seating 1731 and holding four lounge areas, the Jazz Cafe and 3 Fifty Terrace on the rooftop. Music Hall plays host to a variety of non-theatrical events, including corporate annual meetings, parties, receptions, benefits, and fundraisers. It has presented perhaps more performing artists of world renown than any theatre in America.
The historic Music Hall, through its presentations and productions (including commissions of original artistic work), provides Southeastern Michigan with high quality performing arts programs and education that reflect the diverse mix of cultures that make up our community. Music Hall is Detroit’s “People’s Theater” – the place for high quality but non-elitist performing arts and education with an emphasis on dance, theater and music, particularly Jazz. Music Hall aims to be the most accessible, inclusive and culturally diverse performing arts institution in the country.
Matilda Rausch Dodge Wilson, founder of Music Hall (née the Wilson Theatre), was born to German Immigrants Margaret and George Rausch in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada in October of 1883. A year after she was born the Rausch’s moved to Detroit, where her father owned and operated the “Princess Saloon”and her mother ran the “Dry Dock” boarding house next door. In 1902, after graduating Gorsline Business College, she went to work for the Dodge Brothers,John and Horace, at their Hamtramck, Michigan company.
The professional relationship between John and Matilda developed into a personal one and on December 10, 1907, she married John Dodge. Incidentally, one year later they purchased the Meadow Brook farm land in Rochester, Michigan. In1920, while in New York City attending an auto show John contracted influenza and died. At the time, the Dodge Brothers Company held the second place standing in automotive sales. Sadly, John’s brother Horace died less than twelve months later. Some say he was so close to his brother that the loss was too much for him to bear. With the death of both brothers, it left the widows in charge of the company and consequently, they sold the company in 1925. By doing so, the Dodge widows became some of the richest women in the United States. That same year, Mrs. Dodge married her second husband, Mr. Alfred G.Wilson, a lumber broker from Wisconsin. Fun Fact: It is rumored that they brought their architect, William Kapp, on their honeymoon.
On December 9, 1928, The Wilson Theater, as it was originally named, opened with Florenz Ziegfeld’s production of “Rosalie.” Mrs. Dodge Wilson and her architect had toured the great theaters of Europe, with the intention of building a theater in downtown Detroit that would rival those of London. Subsequently, Meadow Brook Hall was designed by the very same architect and was completed less than a year after the Wilson Theater. It is said that a house warming for 850 people was held just three weeks after the stock market crash of 1929.
What is interesting is that in 1928, Mrs. Wilson chose to build a legitimate theater.By legitimate we mean a theater designed for live stage and theatrical presentations. It was the age of the talkies and grand movie palaces. Everyone believed that the movie industry would eliminate “legitimate” theater presentations. At the time the theater was built, there were six legitimate stages in Detroit.
Mr. Kapp and his team from Smith, Hinchman & Grylls designed the 1701 seat theater to be built at a cost of $3 million, with luxurious, beautiful and state-of-the-art attributes and attitude. The curved wood paneled walls, silk drapes, specially designed seats and carpet, and multi-tiered lobby were opulent for the time. Dressing rooms to accommodate 100 performers and an orchestra pit for 40 musicians made the Wilson Theater a suitable rival to nearly any major performance facility in the country. Many of the original pieces such as the wood paneling, silk drapes and torchieres still hang in the theater today. The Wilson Theater logo is still present in the theater and can be seen in the iron work of the opera boxes and on the Jazz Café terrace.
In1944, Mrs. Wilson sold the theater to Henry Reichhold, who renamed the theater “Music Hall,” determined to make it a permanent home for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Broadcast capabilities were added for thousands to listen in on the Ford Sunday Evening Hour. Audiences were thrilled as the orchestra and variety pieces filled the house with talent.
Afterbeing purchased by steel company executive Mervyn Gaskin in 1953, Music Hall was converted into the world’s second Cinerama theater, featuring an enormous curved screen, 3 synchronized projectors and 7channels of stereophonic sound. To support the screen, the opera boxes were removed and the decorative details in the auditorium were all painted brown.
From1971 to 1985, Michigan Opera Theater called Music Hall home. When, in 1974 Music Hall was slated for the wrecking ball, the intervention of Detroit Renaissance, Kresge Foundation and a new Board saved the theater and reinvented it as a non-profit performing arts center.
In1995, Music Hall underwent a major renovation; this time costing 6.5 million to return it to its original grandeur. The grandeur of which can be seen here, as well as at Meadow Brook Hall. Today, Music Hall stands as the last of Detroit’s remaining authentic stage theaters and the city’s premier venue for jazz,theater and dance.
As you can see, the Music Hall has been home to many of Detroit’s performing arts and in the past few years, Music Hall has witnessed another rebirth; many additions have been made to the hall, such as the re-installation of the tower sign that had been missing from the building for over three decades. We introduced Jazz Café at Music Hall in 2006, as our newest performance space, featuring national Jazz and theater artists, as well as local talent. Then in 2012, we introduced our third performance space, the 3Fifty Terrace on the rooftop. Jazz Café and 3Fifty Terrace at Music Hall are open Wednesday through Sunday.
Through the generosity of donors, corporate sponsors and foundations such as the Matilda R. Wilson Fund and Masco Foundation, we are able to continue with our mission.Music Hall continues to be an invaluable reminder of Mrs. Dodge Wilson’s fascinating history and visionary philanthropy. Music Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of the League of Historic Theaters.
Think about this: A woman, in 1928, built a state-of-the-art theater, for ALL people. How cool is that? Music Hall, now referred to as “the people’s theater,” is your theater. We created a motto, a few years back, Practice Your Cool. Perfect Your Cool. Please join us in Practicing or Perfecting your cool in this great theater. We look forward to seeing you.