Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Music Hall

The Wilson Theater, designed by William Kapp of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, is significant as one of the best examples of early Art Deco architecture in Detroit. All of the theater's architectural sculpture was designed and executed by Corrado Parducci who, in a working partnership with Smith, Hinchman, Grylls, left a rich legacy of architectural sculpture in Detroit and throughout the country. His sculpture always comprised an integral part of the design of the building it adorned and never had the "applied" feeling which led many contemporary critics to scorn architectural ornament.

The theater is also significant for the diverse role it has played in the theatrical history of the city of Detroit. Built as a legitimate theatre, the Wilson attracted the best of touring Broadway productions, in addition to providing a forum for presentations of the Acting Company, the Shaw Festival, and the Young Vic. During the Depression, the theatre only opened sporadically but still provided Detroiters with an opportunity to attend quality theater productions.

The Wilson was renamed Music Hall in 1946 when it became the home of the Detroit Symphony. The Symphony moved on to larger quarters in 1949, and in 1951 Music Hall became the home of Detroit's Cinerama. Until recently, the Music Hall was the home of the Michigan Opera Theater, an outgrowth of the Detroit Opera Company.

The theater has also become a center for the performing arts and has served as the stage for many new plays and musical, among them two top hits by Detroiters, "What the Wine Sellers Buy," and "Selma." With traditional drama, classical music, Cinerama, dance, jazz, and ethnic productions, the Wilson Theater has provided Detroit with five decades of vital entertainment.

The front (north) elevation has a dark marble base topped by beige Mankato stone to the height of the marquee. Above the marquee are six stone pilasters alternately surmounted by the masks of tragedy and comedy. These pilasters form a fenestration pattern which is composed of paired openings divided by slender engaged columns. The cornice line above the pilasters is covered by a green and tan mosaic. On either side of the pilasters is one bay of face brick which wraps around the corners of the building. The east elevation features Mankato stone with face brick courses, topped by face brick, with some decorative brickwork at the cornice line. The other two facades are common brick. This exterior, a 1928 version of the modern, combines features of the Arts and Crafts style with early Art Deco.

The interior of the building is done in a Spanish Renaissance motif characteristic of the electicism of American architecture during the 1920s and 1930s. The auditorium section is designed so that all sight lines lead directly to the stage. Even though the theater seats 1800, the pitch of the first and second balconies creates an intimacy missing in most large theaters. The interior contains elaborate applied plaster, stenciling, and molded columns with Greek masks.

More photos and information coming soon.

Last updated 23/04/2023