The Historic Alger Theater
Built by George Washington Trendle of United Detroit Theaters and commanding a presence at East Outer Drive and Warren Avenues in the City of Detroit, the Alger Theater opened its doors on August 22, 1935 as a neighborhood Cinema by welcoming 1,200 enthusiastic East Side Detroiters for a double feature showing of “The Girl from Tenth Avenue” starring Bette Davis and “Oil for the Lamps of China” with Pat O’Brien, Gene Muir, and Jospehine Huthchinson. Surrounded by an area of mid-to-upscale, well-maintained, mostly single-family homes, the Alger Theater’s premiere was emblematic of the vitality, prosperity, and quality of life that our Detroit neighborhood enjoyed at one time.
The stately art deco movie house boasted state of the art amenities for its patrons including premium sound and projection equipment, comfort seating, and air conditioning – a virtually unheard of luxury at that time. From that day, the Alger Theater would thrive from neighborhood patronage for decades.
Over the course of nearly forty years, many and varied socioeconomic changes occurred in the U.S., Michigan, Detroit and finally the neighborhood surrounding the Alger. The original movie house concept on which the Alger Theater was founded began to suffer from poor attendance. In the mid-nineteen seventies, Ervin Steiner purchased the Alger Theater expecting to promote live performances, movies, and musical venues for community audiences. This second phase of entertainment in the Alger Theater successfully anchored its use until 1981, at which time the theater closed.
Recognizing the need to actively change the course of their neighborhood, concerned citizens came together to form the “Friends of the Alger Theater” a non-profit organization, with the purpose to mobilize and purchase the building and guide its use to support community entertainment programs. With diligence and hard work, the Friends of the Alger Theater began to grow through increased membership and fundraising; however, the building was sold in August 1984, before complete fundraising could be realized.
The new owners of the Alger operated the venue as a “blood and gore” B-movie house. The price of admission was minimal and investment in the property by the owners was almost non-existent. The theater’s most evident asset, its majestic exterior, began to show the signs of wear inflicted by an uncaring steward.
Ultimately, this type of programming was not successful in the community and the Alger closed its doors again in April 1985, less than a year later. Instead of being disheartened by the unfortunate plight and visible abuse that the theater had experienced, the Friends were emboldened and determined to return the Alger to a position of prominence and respect in the community. It would take only another year of grass roots effort and extensive fund raising to purchase the Theater for the community in December, 1986.
Through those humble grass root beginnings the Friends of the Alger have grown to a committed membership, paid off considerable tax debt, gained enthusiastic support from many neighborhood organizations and institutions both public and private and ultimately, have steadfastly continued to move forward toward the realization of their goal – a restored theater, activated commercial space and artistic destination for our community.
Read our Local Historic Designation Letter. [right click to save]
Read our National Register of Historic Places Notice of Award Letter. [right click to save]
Read our National Historic Dedication Application. [right click to save]