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New Look for the Auditorium

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Detroit Institute of Arts’ auditorium, home of the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT), is undergoing a complete restoration of the stage systems, interior decorative finishes, and seating that will reestablish its prominence as Detroit’s most elegant historic theater. If you’ve attended one of the DFT films this fall, you may have noticed the new metallic gilding on the theater’s plaster wall panels. Not visible to audience members are the changes directly above and around the stage.

Planning for the improvements began in 2004, when noted restoration architect Edward Francis was asked to convert the eighty-year-old stage-rigging system to modern counterweights, making numerous structural and safety upgrades along the way. The new stage lighting and sound system were specified to support state-of-the-art live theater and musical performances as well as film exhibition.

During this past summer, when the theater was dark, painting and work on decorative finishes were begun. The starting point was a historic study documenting the original appearance of the auditorium, assembled from City of Detroit Arts Commission minutes of the 1920s, and correspondence between building architect Paul Cret, DIA Director Clyde Burroughs, and noted Detroit architect Albert Kahn, designer of the old General Motors building and the Ford Motor Company’s Rouge Plant.

Adapting the 1927 specifications to current needs, the renovation restored the original color palette of gold, silver, deep blue, and taupe.

Jeffrey Duchene, a Michigan-based decorative painter, was contracted to create historically accurate paint finishes and apply more than three miles of metal gilding to the ornate cast plaster ornaments that surround the proscenium, upper-wall frieze panels, and monumental grille above the orchestra. The auditorium was last painted in 1960.

The American Seating Company of Grand Rapids will replace the auditorium’s vintage 1926 seats starting in December. The carved wooden backs and armrests from the original seats will be installed on new cast iron frames, and seats and backs designed for modern comfort will be covered in a deep-blue, natural mohair fabric. Lastly, in November of 2007, the DIA will unveil a bold new look for the entrance of the auditorium, a loggia designed to expand the lobby space and integrate it into the museum’s South Wing.