State Theatre (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

The State Theatre is an operational former movie palace in Ann Arbor, Michigan, designed by C. Howard Crane in the Art Deco style.

State Theatre
The State Theatre's distinctive marquee, with the names of upcoming Midnight Movie selections.
Location233 South State Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States
OwnerMichigan Theater Foundation (theaters)
State Theater LLC (retail space)
OperatorMichigan Theater Foundation
OpenedMarch 18, 1942 (1942-03-18)
Renovated1979; 2017

The State was built by W.S. Butterfield Theaters, which also operated the nearby Michigan Theater.[1] The non-profit Michigan Theater Foundation has operated the theater since 1999, complementing the Michigan's programming. The State's current 4 screens are located on the balcony of the former 1900-seat auditorium. A ground-floor retail space replaced the original auditorium's main floor in 1989, housing an Urban Outfitters store until 2020. It now hosts a Target.

The theater's central location and distinctive green, yellow and red marquee have made it an icon of Ann Arbor's downtown.



W.S. Butterfield Theaters operated five theaters in Ann Arbor in 1940,[2] including the Majestic Theater on Maynard Street, converted in 1907 from a roller rink. Butterfield planned to renovate the Majestic, but city officials denied permission for the work, prompting the construction of the State. The staff of the Majestic moved to the State, and Butterfield considered the State to be the Majestic's direct replacement.[3]

After it ceased operations, the Majestic was condemned as unsafe due to its primarily wood construction and prohibited from reopening. Butterfield's lease expired at the end of 1942, and the building was demolished in 1948.[4]

Design and constructionEdit

In September 1940, Butterfield gave the first hints about building another theater in Ann Arbor when it evicted the tenants of its property at 221 South State Street.[5] Weeks later, plans were revealed for the theater, designed in Art Deco style by Detroit-based movie palace architect C. Howard Crane.[6]

The State was designed as a movie theater, with a small stage and no dressing rooms. The Butterfield circuit continued to use the nearby Michigan for live shows, with both theaters showing first-run movies.[2]

The State opened to great fanfare on March 18, 1942, showing The Fleet's In.[2] The Butterfield circuit assured customers that construction on the State had started before the United States entered World War II, and that no materials were taken from the war effort.[7]


The first major modification to the State was the replacement of the original 18 by 16 feet (5.5 m × 4.9 m) screen with a 43 by 24 feet (13.1 m × 7.3 m) screen in November 1953.[8] The State's balcony and main floor were each divided into two theaters in 1979, decreasing the total capacity by 200 seats. Manager Barry Miller cited economics and the need to book films for longer runs as reasons for the division.[9]

Decline and partial conversion to retailEdit

Butterfield, facing hard times, sold the State to the Kerasotes Theater Corporation of Springfield, Illinois in December 1984. Kerasotes cut costs by dismissing the staff of unionized projectionists, prompting picketing and boycotts that continued into at least 1986.[10]

Kerasotes sold the State to Hogarth Management at a loss in 1989.[11] Hogarth was owned by Tom Borders, founder of Borders Books, whose flagship store was located one block away from the State. Hogarth initially planned on converting the entire building to retail space, but eventually settled on converting the ground-floor space for retail, retaining the two theaters on the former balcony and the neon-lit marquee.[11][12]

An Urban Outfitters store opened in the ground floor retail space in August 1989.[13] Remnants of the original theater were visible in the store, including the structure of the balcony above the sales floor.

Reopening as theaterEdit

Aloha Entertainment, owned by the Spurlin family of Canton, Michigan, leased the space after years of vacancy, adding Hawaiian-themed decor. The theater reopened on November 13, 1992, showing second-run films at discount prices.[14]

A group of local investors bought the building in 1997, and Aloha's lease was terminated. The investor group hired the Michigan Theater Foundation to operate the State in 1999, reuniting the Michigan and State.[1]

Michigan Theater Foundation ownership and restorationEdit

In 2007, the Michigan Theater Foundation developed a contingency plan for taking control of the State.[15] The building's owners proposed in 2013 to convert the upstairs theaters to offices or apartments, and the Michigan Theater Foundation responded by attempting to buy the building.[15][16] An agreement to purchase the theaters, but not the retail space, was reached in 2014.[17]

A major renovation began in 2017, which restored the original Art Deco style. Tiles were custom-made, and the original carpet pattern was recreated from a sample preserved by a local historian. The 2017 renovation divided the space into four fully accessible theaters, featuring improved sight lines and contemporary projection and sound equipment.[18]

COVID-19 pandemicEdit

The State Theatre was temporarily closed from March 2020 to February 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a brief reopening in October 2020.[19] Programming continued while the building was closed, with a "Virtual Movie Palace" series of streaming films and to-go concessions sales.

The Urban Outfitters store in the ground-level retail space moved to Briarwood Mall in November 2020.[20]

A Target store opened in the ground-level space in 2021. The "small-format" store carries a limited selection of products, with an emphasis on groceries. The store is one of the smallest in the chain, at 12,000 square feet.[21]


The Michigan Theater Foundation operates the State Theatre, and the programming at the State is coordinated with the nearby Michigan. The State shows first run independent films and classics, with regular late night showings of cult favorites.[22]


  1. ^ a b Stanton, Ryan (November 29, 2017). "A history of Ann Arbor's iconic State Theatre going back to 1940". MLive. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "State First New Theater In Fourteen Years". The Ann Arbor News. March 17, 1942 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  3. ^ "Butterfield Lease On Majestic Ends; Keys Turned Over". The Ann Arbor News. December 31, 1942 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  4. ^ Emmons, Dick (June 21, 1948). "Majestic Theater Being Razed For Parking Lot". The Ann Arbor News. Retrieved July 11, 2019 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  5. ^ "New Theater Here Likely". The Ann Arbor News. September 5, 1940. Retrieved July 11, 2019 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  6. ^ "New Theater Planned For Ann Arbor". The Ann Arbor News. November 30, 1940. Retrieved July 11, 2019 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  7. ^ "New Local Theater Most Modern Found In Michigan". The Ann Arbor News. March 17, 1942. Retrieved July 11, 2019 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  8. ^ "Theater Installs Huge New Screen". The Ann Arbor News. November 13, 1953 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  9. ^ Klein, Pamela (February 21, 1979). "State Theater splits its image". The Ann Arbor News. p. D1. Retrieved July 13, 2019 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  10. ^ Nevel, Bonnie (July 1986). "Continue to boycott local theaters?". Agenda. Ann Arbor, Michigan. Retrieved July 13, 2019 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  11. ^ a b Shackman, Grace (September 2003). "Cinema's First Century". Ann Arbor Observer. ISSN 0192-5717. Retrieved July 13, 2019 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  12. ^ Judge, Paul (February 1, 1989). "State Theater may become retail mall". The Ann Arbor News. Retrieved July 13, 2019 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  13. ^ Daly, Tim (August 4, 1989). "Old State Theater Closer To Clothes Encounter". The Ann Arbor News. Retrieved July 13, 2019 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  14. ^ Moilanen, Kathy Ann (September 5, 1992). "Showtime! State Theater To Resume Showing Movies". The Ann Arbor News. Retrieved July 13, 2019 – via Ann Arbor District Library.
  15. ^ a b Dunn, Patrick (November 2017). "State of the State - The Michigan Theater gives its iconic neighbor a new lease on life". Ann Arbor Observer. ISSN 0192-5717. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  16. ^ Freed, Ben (November 5, 2013). "Ann Arbor's State Theater owners exploring new options for historic space". MLive. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  17. ^ Alfs, Lizzy (June 16, 2014). "Michigan Theater to buy State Theatre, plans for improvements". MLive. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  18. ^ Stanton, Ryan (December 7, 2017). "A look inside Ann Arbor's State Theatre as renovations enter final stretch". MLive. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  19. ^ Parlette, Sarah (November 17, 2020). "Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater and State Theatre temporarily close for second time". WDIV. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  20. ^ Afana, Dana (November 30, 2020). "Urban Outfitters closes downtown Ann Arbor store". MLive.
  21. ^ Maynard, Micheline (October 20, 2021). "The Tiny Target Is Already a Hot Spot". Ann Arbor Observer. Retrieved January 1, 2023.
  22. ^ "FAQ". State Theatre - Ann Arbor. Archived from the original on December 7, 2019. Retrieved December 7, 2019.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 42°16′46″N 83°44′26″W / 42.2795°N 83.7405°W / 42.2795; -83.7405