Preservation Detroit — Statement on the National Theatre

 The National Theater (Image copyright Carleton Gholz, Detroit Sound Conservancy)

The National Theater (Image copyright Carleton Gholz, Detroit Sound Conservancy)

There is no doubt that the redevelopment of the Monroe Block is a transformative project for downtown Detroit, and overall we are pleased with the design, scale, and density of this project on a block that has senselessly sat vacant for far too long.

However, we are unsatisfied with the solution proposed for the National Theatre, built in 1911 and designed by Albert Kahn. Even in its deteriorated state, it remains one of downtown’s most distinctive buildings, and is a repository of Detroit’s rich performing arts history. It’s the last surviving piece of downtown’s original theater district and one of the oldest surviving structures built to house the arts in North America.

Bedrock has proposed demolishing most of the building, while preserving a portion of the facade, relocating it, and reusing it as a gateway to their Monroe Block development. While admirable in its intent, we feel this compromises the building’s history and is a missed opportunity to creatively reimagine and reuse the structure and incorporate the existing building into this ambitious, world-class development.

We have not heard any compelling reasoning from Bedrock as to why the structure needs to be demolished. At the first CBO meeting, representatives from Bedrock simply stated that they were not sure they saw a reason to include a performing arts venue in the Monroe Block development. This lack of imagination is disappointing, especially considering the hefty subsidy Bedrock will receive for this development from taxpayers, and the many possibilities for creatively reusing the space.

Saving The National would be a substantial community benefit for downtown Detroit. We hope Bedrock will reconsider their decision — and that the City of Detroit, as well as the Monroe Block Neighborhood Advisory Council, will help persuade Bedrock to do so.

More on the Monroe Block and The National Theatre

Our friends at the Detroit Sound Conservancy wrote an open letter about the preservation of The National, with an endorsement from burlesque performer Lottie The Body for saving the building.

What’s a facadectomy? More from our blog: FACADECTOMY 101

We’ve been advocating for a future for The National Theatre for years. Though it’s no longer available online, Deadline Detroit excerpted our 2014 guest column for The Free Press about the future of The National. And last year we spoke to The Detroit News about the urgency of making a preservation plan for the building.

Learn more about Bedrock’s Monroe Block plans here.

The history of The National Theater from HistoricDetroit.org.