top of page

Detroit Opera House

Detroit, MI

As one of the most comprehensive interior restorations ever undertaken in the region, a crumbling theater was transformed into a world-class venue for operatic and dance productions. The 2,700-seat theater was originally designed in 1922 by C. Howard Crane, a renowned theater architect and former draftsman for Albert Kahn. When the Michigan Opera Theatre purchased the theater in 1989, the interior was nearly beyond saving – 90% of the plasterwork was destroyed.

Through the use of photographs and written archives, the interior of the theater was painstakingly researched and restored to ensure authenticity. The restoration of the plasterwork proved that the original acoustic design was flawless. Forensic analysis

revealed an original color palette dominated by gilded ochre, browns, and blues, which were recreated through the theater.

The central oculus was rebuilt and dramatic lighting was restored to the space. Sections of the original curtain were refurbished and replicated, and a fragment of the original carpet was recovered and matched. The existing stagehouse was replaced with an addition designed to meet the needs of contemporary theater production, and the orchestra pit was expanded to accommodate larger ensembles.

Massive chandeliers in the main lobby were restored, while some lost fixtures were replaced. The Broadway lobby chandelier, for instance, once graced the original Waldorf Astoria, and is now on permanent loan from the Henry Ford Museum.

The administrative office tower was readapted to preserve certain as-found conditions that tell a poignant story about the reconstruction including exposed clay-tile ceilings, masonry walls, and raw concrete framing. Originally isolated from the theater, the offices were strategically integrated to accommodate administrative and educational programs.

Today, Kahn remains involved with the Detroit Opera House. Recent renovations include increasing accessibility for attendees through the addition of a new elevator tower, replacement of seating in the theater, updated heating, cooling and ventilation systems, and a building wide control system to monitor and control building systems. Finally, an added terrace on the roof will be the perfect venue for outdoor events in the city.


2001 AIA National Honor Award
2000 AIA Michigan
1999 AIA Detroit Honor Award

Project Gallery

bottom of page