We have spent the better part of 2016 obtaining a collection of photographs chronicling the history of the State Wayne Theatre from the past seven decades. Since the theatre opening in December of 1946, the exterior has had few noticeable modifications, with the majority of the changes occurring inside to accommodate the changing trends that have occurred to the movie industry. What is striking is that throughout the decades the theatre itself has become one of the constants in the Wayne community. An iconic building that everyone remembers as having always been there and always will be in Downtown Wayne. A place that invokes strong memories of first dates, trips to the movies with Grandparents, remembering when you first looked up and noticed the ever present dragon in the darkness of a Sunday matinee. Now celebrating 70 years as a movie theatre, we felt it was very important to preserve the photographic history, and provide a place to share personal stories of visits to this important civic place for the residents of Wayne and the surrounding communities.
Happy Anniversary - State-Wayne
Cory A. Jacobson
Phoenix Theatres - State-Wayne
How it all Began
One man's story that earned him the nickname "Movie Man"
In the spring of 1918 when Woodrow Wilson was President, Walter Shafer in the uniform of the U.S. Army was sent to New York City at the age of 26 to give "pep talks" from the leading stages of Broadway to promote the sales of war bonds. It was in New York that Walter was first introduced to the world of theatres. When the war ended on November 11, 1918, Shafer was free to pursue a career and his contacts in the theatres paid off. He was hired by the Fox Theatre Circuit to operate theatres in New York City, Elizabeth, New York, and Newark, New Jersey in the new industry of the movie business. While in Elizabeth he met a bank teller named Lillian Thiemer and soon after he proposed marriage and she became Mrs. Shafer.
Theatres in this era were offering a combination of live stage performances and silent films. The theatres were complicated and in some cases large operations with in-house orchestras, stagehands and a vast operational staff. Innovations in the quality of theatres, picture clarity and sound-on-film led to a great expansion in the new film business, and by the mid to late 1920’s the film exhibition industry was booming as a transition to film from live performances was beginning. William Fox was expanding his theatre chain rapidly and in 1920 and Mr. Shafer and his wife Lillian were quickly transferred to St. Louis for his new position as Manager of the Fox Theatre there. In 1921 he was promoted and transferred once again to Detroit to the original Fox Theatre, located on Washington Boulevard as Managing Director. In 1926 he helped direct the building of the new Fox Theatre on Woodward Avenue. He witnessed his first "talkie" at the Adams Theatre on Grand Circus Park in 1927.
In 1927, Walter accepted a job offer from the Koppin Theatre Circuit and became the General Manager of 27 theatres in Detroit, Flint, Dearborn and Wayne.
Then came the Depression of 1929 and hit everywhere and by 1930 he was forced to close eight theatres due to "a lack of business." The next few years were to be a time of great adjustment. Shafer negotiated with the owner of the Wayne Theatre building to lease the closed theatre. He resigned his position at the Koppin Theatre Circuit where he had been earning $25,000 a year and struck out on his own in Downtown Wayne reopening the darkened theatre.
In 1929 calamity struck the world in a way that no one had could have possibly considered. For the Shafer family it changed the course of their lives in ways no one could have anticipated. In 1932, there was a "bank holiday" in Michigan and Shafer’s money was sewed up in the bank. The family lost their home in Grosse Point and was forced to move to a log house his two children described as the "death house" in Wayne. The house was said to have a large hole in the splintered floor to heat the 2nd floor. He was dead broke.
The Wayne theatre operation became a family duty as Mrs. Shafer ran the concession stand and his children (Mark was 10 and Charles was 8) worked as the theatre janitors. The total receipts from the theatre on a Sunday would perhaps run $17 or less. That was when Walter had the brilliant idea of introducing 10-cent night for everyone. The price had been 20 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. He offered a popular western, cartoon and newsreel for a complete evening of entertainment four days a week (with the theatre remaining closed the other three).
Business built steadily as his pricing strategy and the economy began to improve and by 1934 the Shafer Wayne Theatre was drawing up to 2,000 customers a night. By 1939 times were much better and Shafer was growing his business and building a new "ultra-modernistic" Shafer Theatre in Garden City near the corner of Ford Road near Middlebelt. In 1945, Shafer started construction on the new State Theatre in Wayne and ran it in conjunction with the Schafer Wayne until 1952 when the Wayne Theatre was closed. As a true pioneer in theatre exhibition, Shafer realized the new potential of Drive-In theatres and opened The Wayne Drive-In on Michigan Avenue west of Downtown in 1949. It was the first in the area and an instant success and was followed in 1956 with the opening of the Algiers Drive-In at Wayne Road and Warren Roads.
Mr. Shafer stated at the time of his retirement in 1954 that the highlight of his long career was seeing his first "talkie." He vividly remembered "I was so enthused to think that a man could come right out there on the screen and talk to you, I just didn’t know what to think," he said. "I nearly fell of my chair." He brought the first talking pictures to the Wayne Theatre in 1928 as a member of the Koppin Theatre management organization. His career in the motion picture theatre business spanned nearly 40 years and saw a one-time public stenographer manage leading theatres from New York to St. Louis to Detroit and finally Wayne, where he built a miniature theatre empire in his own community.
The company that he started in Wayne continued to grow and thrive following his retirement by his two sons Charles and Martin to become one of the legendary family motion picture theatre chains in the Detroit community.
History of State-Wayne
The timeline showcases the decades of the theatre’s history. Clicking on each period will expand to a summary of details.
- 1938 - Purchase of Property
Walter Schafer purchased the property in 1938 and began the task of filling in the land where the theatre was eventually going to be built.
- 1944 - New Theatre Proposed
Plans were proposed for the originally named "Annex Theatre," as Walter Shafer owned the Wayne Theatre, which was located directly east of the property. The theatre design was to feature a modernistic Deco style and feature the latest in cinema features.
- 1945 - Construction Begins
The construction of the now named State Theatre begins as World War II ends. Civilian construction projects had been delayed during the war to provide steel and other necessary building materials for the war effort.
- 1946 - Grand Opening
On December 29th at 1:00pm, Wayne residents were celebrating the Grand Opening of Wayne’s new State Theatre. Premiering "The Big Sleep" the latest Humphrey Bogart & Laurel Bacall film, directed by the famous Howard Hanks.
The theatre boasted the latest in modern cinema amenities including 1,500 seats and a special baby crying room adjacent to the upper Ladies restroom (where Mothers could take restless children to enjoy the show without disturbing other audience members).
Some of the first films shown the premiere week were: "The Cockeyed Miracle" starring Frank Morgan & Keenan Wynn, "The Kid From Brooklyn" starring Danny Kaye & Virginia Mayo, and "Swamp Fire" starring Johnny Weissmuller & Virginia Grey
- 1954 - Shafer Sons Officially Take Over
At the age of 69, theatre exhibition pioneer Walter Shafer retires after nearly 40 years in the theatre industry and the State Theatre and Wayne Amusements operations are passed on to his sons, Charles and Martin.
- 1961 - End of an Era
Founder Walter Shafer passes away at the age of 76.
- 1964 - Renovations
The Shafer brothers completely renovate the State Theatre with an new oriental theme, creating a new lobby, foyer and snack bar concession stand. The now famous dragons were first seen on the auditorium walls created by Anton Mom, an artist from Holland. Remodeling the theatre proved to be a big job for the contractors in view of tight schedules maintained. Work went on at an 8 hour daily schedule so that the community would not be deprived of entertainment.
- 1986 - State Split Into Two Auditoriums & Sold
The introduction of videotapes and cable outlets such as HBO caused a glut of new film product, as film production was a very good investment due to the growing opportunities to earn revenue. Recognizing the evolving movie industry and the need to take advantage of the added product available, the Schafer brothers split the single screen into two auditoriums. This also doubled the chance that the film the public was interested in seeing was showing at the State Theatre. The obvious downside was the theatre was designed as a single screen auditorium and the overall room dimensions when split in half reduced the picture size and created long narrow rooms with poor sight lines. At the time, the exhibition industry generally turned to quantity of films and not the presentation quality.
Soon after the auditorium split, the State Theatre was sold to Sumner Redstone’s Boston based National Amusements. The Shafer’s theatre properties at this time included: the Quo Vadis indoor theatre and drive-in located in Westland, the Michigan Theatre in Dearborn, Ecorse Drive-In located in Ecorse, Wayne Drive-In located in Wayne and Ford Wyoming Drive-In located in Dearborn. The sale included several of the properties including the Quo Vadis and Michigan (later to become Showcase Dearborn).
- 1987 - State Theatre Closed By National Amusements
The State theatre was operating as a discount theatre by 1987, and National Amusements' business focus was on first-run multi-screen facilities and drive-ins. The State Theatre simply did not fit into their overall business plan and the building and property were offered for sale for the asking price of $420,000 in 1988. This included the deed restriction prohibiting the showing of first run films (used as a tactic in many National Amusements sale agreements to prevent competitive use).
City of Wayne
- 1991 - City Buys Theatre
After years of decay as a vacant building the State Theatre was sold to the City of Wayne for the purchase price of $316,970. The deed restriction prohibiting the showing of first run films was a condition of the sale. Plans were drawn up to divide the theatre into three auditoriums, renovate the lobby, redevelop the former Barber Shop into new restrooms on the main floor and add a stage area for live performances.
- 1992 - Splitting Up
Charles Shafer’s company returns to the theatre as the operational manager for the City of Wayne and helps to coordinate the renovation. It was determined that a forth auditorium could be added and the addition and live stage were opened on November 20, 1992.
- 1996 - Milestone Year
Milestone 50th Year
- 2007/08 - The Mural
On the side of the State Wayne Theatre there is a hand painted mural. "The theme of the Wayne History Mural is, A Road Runs Through It and is clearly seen in the top section of the mural.The dark brick bands of the building are thought of a roadway presenting a transportation timeline history of Wayne. The mural is big, covering the majority of the east wall of the State-Wayne Theatre. In the photo above, the top sections of the mural, on the left and right sides, are not shown in their entirety.
The mural panels are painted in shades of the brick building color to create the illusion that they are ornamental carvings used in art-deco architecture. This painting style is called, "Trompe L’oeil Grisaille." The mural depicts Wayne through four categories:
- People, Pride and Progress
- Industrial Growth
- Community Life
- A Road Runs Through It
The Wayne History Mural is the result of the hard work and dedication of many, including the Wayne City Council, the Downtown Development Authority, the 2020 Committee and many friends. The artists are David Fichter and Joshua Winer with the help of Anthony Ivezaj.The idea of creating public art was developed during Michigan Gov. Granholm’s "Cool Cities" initiative in 2003. From that initiative, City Council formed the 2020 Committee. After, many discussions and meetings, the committee recommended to City Council that a Wayne History Mural should be painted on the east wall of the State-Wayne Theater. Council approved and the mural was created.The State-Wayne Theater is a community icon with its beautiful art deco marquee and dancing lights announcing this week’s feature presentations. The theater was purchased by the City in 1991 and completely renovated and made into a multiplex theatre with four auditoriums. The building also boasts a stage for live theater.
The mural was dedicated on October 16, 2007 and re-dedicated on October 28, 2008 following the completion of additional panels."
- 2012 - Welcome Phoenix
In the summer of 2012, the film industry was in the middle of a major shift in technology as 35-millimeter film was quickly being replaced by digital presentations. The City of Wayne realized that they needed to take steps to make the transition to digital cinema or risk causing the theatre to become completely obsolete. Charles Shafer had been involved with the State Theatre through most of the theatre’s 66 years of operation and recognized that a successor needed to be found that would develop a plan for a smooth transition. Wayne City Manager, Robert English had met Phoenix owner Cory Jacobson and an agreement was subsequently reached to manage the theatre and coordinate the necessary improvements to digital cinema. On August 1, 2012 Phoenix began over 90 days of work to make the digital conversion and cosmetically freshen up the interior and building. The State-Wayne officially became part of the Michigan based Phoenix Theatres chain and entered the digital era on November 17, 2012 with a rededication on a sunny Saturday morning with the Mayor Al Hadious cutting the "ribbon of film" as Wayne City officials and citizens attended.
- 2014 - Phoenix Theatres Buys State-Wayne
By March of 2014, Phoenix had converted their Monroe theatre location to a new style of luxury reclining seating to great success and increased attendance. The State Wayne had seen some promising increases in business over the past two years under Phoenix’s management, however it continued to require public support from the City of Wayne to continue to operate. As city finances were declining, a need to focus tax resources on critical city services became highly necessary. Subsequently, an agreement was struck between Phoenix and the City of Wayne to purchase the theatre. Ownership of the property allowed Phoenix to reinvest in the theatre and bring the popular reclining seats to State-Wayne. In addition to new seating, three of the screens were replaced with wider wall-to-wall pictures, greatly improving the overall presentation. In November of 2014 the renovations were completed and with the new amenity of 100 percent reclining luxury seating the theatre has enjoyed some of the largest percentage increases in box-office business in the Detroit market, with total annual attendance topping 100,000 guests for the first time in decades. Now returning to stable profitability, employing a family of over 18 people, providing a state-of-the-art digital film presentation that we can be truly proud of, the State Wayne has a bright future to continue providing entertainment to Wayne and the surrounding communities for decades to come.
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