After nearly being converted into office space, the State Theatre and all of its art deco grandeur will be properly restored and renovated over the next eight to 12 months in order to better serve the community, right on time for its 75th anniversary in 2017. In the meantime, the theater will be closed. Renovations began Tuesday.
The State Theatre was purchased by the Michigan Theater in 2014 to preserve and protect Ann Arbor’s movie exhibition business, and has been dedicated to showing art-house films since. The theater is renowned for its high-style art deco cinema, designed by C. Howard Crane in 1942 and Crane’s facade, classic marquee, entrance and lobby, as well as the restrooms, are parts of the restoration efforts to come. The restoration will be funded by a capital campaign the State and Michigan project, operated by the Michigan Theater Foundation.
Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, said pledges to fund the restoration currently total $6.2 million out of the $8.5 million needed to complete the campaign, with most of the funds coming from donations by private citizens.
“We’re about halfway through the project,” Collins said. “We’ve raised about three quarters of the total needed to complete the project. The last two million will be toughest to raise. The vast majority of it (donations) are from private citizens and local foundations.”
“We are thrilled this evening to formally announce the State and Michigan Project: our campaign to renovate the State Theatre and to make critical capital improvements to our beloved Michigan Theater,” said Hillary Murt, the Michigan Theater Foundation chair.
For many students, such as LSA seniors Kat Johnson and Eric Grant, the State Theatre closing temporarily is bittersweet — because though they cannot attend any shows at their favorite local venue during their final school year, it’ll be a better experience for them in the future.
“I’m happy that they’re doing renovations,” Grant said. “But also I’m really jealous and kind of angry that this is my last year here.”
Johnson said she has been seeing a film at the State every month since she was a freshman. She has gotten to know people better, such as Grant, by attending midnight premieres at the State with them.
“I think it’s a great way to bring students into film, overall,” Johnson said. “I think the State’s role is pulling young people into movies.”
Both agreed that the art house experience is unique to the State. When it comes to choosing what films to show, they said the State does a good job curating their titles to not just include the next big movie.
“It’s just this classic art house, midnight movie kind of place,” Grant said. “You just go there to see a movie and experience that kind of art house feel.”
Collins said he recognizes students love to go to movies to take a break from school, and hopes the long-term benefits of the project outweigh the current construction. Overall, he said the two theaters combined offer a unique opportunity for students to enjoy art films while they are on campus.
“The purpose of the Michigan and State Theatre is to present cinema not only as a fun enjoyable thing to do but as a vital cultural resource,” Collins said. “Having a diversity of cinema — the kind of cinema you might see in a big city — that’s the kind of thing that a university town likes. A very sophisticated, educated, town and university like the University of Michigan like this kind of thing. So many places just don’t have these specialty movie theaters.”
Even though the State will be out of operation this year, Collins said the Michigan Theater will open a third, “annex,” theater to help facilitate much of the programming that would otherwise have taken place at the State. The annex theater will be stocked with the old seats and screen from the State, and will open this week.
“I don’t think a lot of product will be missed,” Collins said. “We’re going from essentially four screens to three screens. So it’s not quite as dramatic as it might appear.”
Other future plans include improving the seating by adding comfort, more leg room and proper alignment to the screen. To offer a state-of-the art movie going experience, movie projection and sound systems will be upgraded as well. Johnson said she thinks that the renovations will help in the long run by boosting attendance, especially with new, comfortable chairs.
“For a lot of people I know that doesn’t detract from the experience at all,” Johnson said. “But then for another handful, they’re always going to complain about the seats or something.”
Collins said the number of screening rooms will also be increased from two to four in the renovated State Theatre. The screening rooms will have 140 seats, 120 seats, 80 seats and 49 seats, respectively.
“It’ll be especially a more intimate setting,” Grant said in response to the changes.
Johnson said there will be some nostalgia for the “weirdness” of the old State, but she and Grant both added that they hope it won’t change too much, especially with the restorations of the interior art deco design.
“Once it’s finished it’ll give them the best of both worlds,” Grant said.
A major point considered in making the plans for renovation was accessibility for all, Collins said. The theatre and its screening rooms will also be made handicap accessible by adding an elevator to every floor with new ADA features for mobility-impaired, hearing-impaired and visually-impaired patrons.
“The most important thing is that we make the State Theatre accessible,” Collins said. “It’s really serving all the citizens in our community. I think all things considered it’s a really good bargain for students and the community.”
Grant said he thinks it’s good the State is renovating their theater to make it handicap accessible, but noted seniors might be disappointed they can’t experience the theater in their last year on campus.
“It combines the culture of Ann Arbor with students,” Grant said. “When you have culture institution that’s able to combine locals and students, that’s really special.”
When it comes to nostalgia, Collins says it’s up to the viewer whether or not they will be disappointed by the renovations, saying if anything, some of the historic appeal will be restored. He also highlighted the diversity of programs the theaters will be able to feature once the project is complete, such as special premieres.
“What I’m excited about, is we’re going to have two really cool, historic theaters a half a block from each other,” Collins said. “And if you think about it, there’s not a better cinema exhibition scenario in the country. This is going to be, in terms of one institution, fairly unparalleled in the country. This community, you know — leaders and best — that’s kind of the expectation in the community.”