Face/Off

Detroit’s historic National Theatre to be scrapped for $800 million development

Architecture Development Midwest Preservation Urbanism
Detroit's historic National Theatre to be scrapped for $800 million development. Proposed facade restoration of the National Theatre (Courtesy Bedrock)

On December 26, commercial developers Bedrock Detroit released conceptual drawings for its proposed incorporation of Albert Kahn’s decaying and vacant National Theatre into their $800 million Monroe Blocks redevelopment. According to The Detroit News, the project would add a 35-story office tower and four mixed-use buildings within the city center.

Kahn designed the Moorish Revival-Beaux Arts hybrid National Theatre in 1911, but the structure was abandoned in 1975. While the building has been allowed to decay, it remains the last in Detroit’s historic theatre district. The ongoing struggle to reverse Detroit’s economic fortunes has led to an increasing appreciation of historic structures within the city, as demonstrated by the ongoing restoration work of the Shinola Hotel, and the Albert Khan and Fisher Buildings. A critical asset behind Detroit’s renewal is the preservation of its architectural past.

Although the development of unused land within the city center has few opponents, Detroit News reports that only the white-glazed terra-cotta facade and gold-domed towers of the National Theatre building will be preserved by Bedrock Detroit. This leaves the rest of the theatre space subject to demolition. Additionally, the facade will be dismantled piece by piece while undergoing restoration, and will subsequently be returned to a location within the Bedrock’s redevelopment scheme.

While Preservation Detroit has voiced support for the Monroe Blocks redevelopment, the organization has expressed concern that only saving the facade compromises the district’s history and  removes an opportunity to restore the existing building within the development.

Bedrock is presently involved in a number of ambitious projects in Detroit, such as the restoration of the iconic Book Building and the development of SHoP Architects-designed 1206 Woodward Avenue.

For now, the restored facade of the National Theatre will only serve as a pedestrian portal for the upcoming project.

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