Detroit Music Hall/Wilson Theater

350 Madison in downtown Detroit

This building should not be confused with C Howard Crane's Orchestra Hall at 3711 Woodward.

John Dodge and his brother Horace were among the original investors in the highly successful Ford Motor Company—the one formed in 1903. The Dodge Brothers ran their own machine shop and factory here in Detroit. They quickly became one of Ford's major suppliers. Many prominent and independent people who collaborated with Henry Ford eventually got into acrimonious battles with him. By 1912, Ford was the world's most successful and profitable producer of inexpensive cars, but the Dodge Brothers got fed up and decided to build their own vehicles. It was not too much of a challenge for them since they had factories in Detroit and the requisite skills. They knew enough not to challenge Ford in the low-price market, so they designed a sturdy, slightly more expensive car that individuals could move up to after driving a Model T. Interestingly, the Dodge Brothers financed their firm on the basis of their business with Ford and the dividends they obtained. This was well before 1919 when Henry Ford bought all the stock in his firm and converted the publicly held company into a Ford family enterprise.

Both Dodge brothers died in 1920, leaving an immense estate to their widows. Matilda, the wife of John Dodge, was interested in the legitimate stage and wished to build an impressive venue in Detroit that would welcome Broadway touring company and serve as a home to a repertory group. She commissioned William Kapp of the Smith, Hinchman and Grylls firm to design the theater you see. He also designed Meadow Brook Hall for her. He selected the then-popular Art Deco style with the six-story façade along Madison serving as the exterior highlight. Orange and tan bricks ornamented with mosaic tiles were used to project a warm but earth tone complexion. Kapp then divided the front into several bays using large stone pillars capped with the traditional theatrical masks in terra cotta. Much narrower pillars separate the window bays. At the roofline, you will find a coral and green diamond motif. For the interior, Kapp selected a Spanish Renaissance theme. This is a large theater with an original seating capacity of 1800. By 1928, the former Mrs. Dodge had married Alfred G. Wilson, hence the original name of this theater: Wilson Theater. The opening performance in the Wilson Theater was Florenz Ziegfield's production of "Rosalie" whose music we still appreciate.

During the Depression, the Detroit Symphony was unable to financially sustain their home in Orchestra Hall. They played in a variety of locations when their finances permitted. In 1946, they moved into Wilson Theater and renamed it Detroit Music Hall. Wilson, in 1944, had sold his theater to Henry Reichhold was was a patron of the Detroit Symphony. The move to the Wilson Theater did not save the Detroit Symphony and they went out of business in 1949.

By 1951, a reestablished Detroit Symphony shifted into the Ford Auditorium in what is now Hart Plaza. The Music Hall was then devoted to what was presumed to be the innovative next wave in cinema—3-Dimension movies. They were not such a success.

In 1971, a new theatrical group was formed in Detroit, The Michigan Opera Theater and they used this building as their home for some years. An effort began in 1973 to restore this then-fading building to its former glory, led by David DiChiera. However, he later took responsibility for rehabilitating the Grand Circus Theater, designed by C. Howard Crane in the later 1920s, and eventually turned it into the Detroit Opera House.

In 1995, the remodeled Symphony Hall on Woodward that had once been the home of the Detroit Symphony was renovated. It's acuistics were much better than those in the riverfront Ford Auditorium. That renovated C. Howard Crane building continues to serve as home from the Detroit Symphony. No recent decade rivals the 1920s for the construction of exuberant and grand-sized theater. In the city of Detroit, you will find six of the greatest of those theaters, either preserved or restored to their impressive original designs: Detroit's Masonic Temple, the Detroit's Music Hall, The Fisher Theater, the Fox Theater, Orchestra Hall , and the State Theater,

The Wilson Theater or Detroit Music Hall was also remodeled in 1995 and is frequently used for a variety of performances.


Architect: William E. Kapp of the Smith, Hinchman and Grylls firm
Date of completion: 1928
Architect for renovation: Schervish Vogel Merz
Date of restoration: 1991 to 1995
Use in 2003: Music hall and theater
State Registry of Historic Sites: P25287 Listed August 6, 1976
State Historical Marker: Erected: August 9, 1977
National Registry of Historic Sites: Listed September 12, 1978
Photo: Ren Farley July, 2003
Description updated: January, 2016



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