Preservation Detroit: Save The National Theatre, 'An Irreplaceable Asset'
December 18th, 2013, 7:52 AM
Amy Elliott Bragg, board president of Preservation Detroit, acknowledges at the start that her Free Press guest column sounds like an echo:
Yet another Detroit landmark is at risk. Yes, another one.
Her focus this time is the National Theatre, a 102-year-old Monroe Street monument from the burlesque era that Bragg values as "a landmark."
The National Theatre is caught in a tug-of-war between an owner who failed to deliver on promises to develop the gem for over a decade; the City of Detroit, which is trying to regain possession of the building; and Rock Ventures LLC, Dan Gilbert’s real estate arm, which has bought up most of the property around it, and is eyeing the site for new development.
Whoever wins the day owes it to Detroiters to save and restore the National, an anchor to our past and an irreplaceable asset.
When it opened in 1911, the National made headlines for its glamour. With its handsome terra cotta facade, gold-domed towers, made-in-Detroit Pewabic tile and a grand arched entryway, the National classed up the Monroe block . . . [with] a glorious circus of light.
At his authoritative Historic Detroit site, journalist Dan Austin describes the significance of Detroit's last live burlesque theater, vacant since 1975:
The National Theatre is the only survivor from Detroit’s first theater district and the only surviving theater known to have been designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn.
Bragg and her nonprofit organization see the neglected century-old building near Greektown as a potential development catalyst:
We’re picturing a space like the Rialto Theatre in Tampa, a 1925 building that will be restored and converted into art galleries and dance studios, with space for events and small businesses. Incorporated into a residential development on the rest of the block, the National could become a hub of creative energy. . . .
Saving the National should be a question not of duty, but of tremendous opportunity.