Abandoned Eastown Theatre – From Motion Pictures to Drug Deals: Detroit, Michigan 1931-2015
When someone mentions a former Detroit rock palace, the first place that may come to mind for the old-timers would be the Grande Ballroom. But there was a place on the east end of Detroit that became notorious – not just for great rock bands – but for an out-of-control drug haven.
It was the Eastown Theatre, located at 8041 Harper and just about 100 feet north of I-94.
During the 1920s, Detroit's love of movies induced many movie houses to pop up all over the metro area. Some ordinary, some cheap, and some were palatial movie-going royalty. The Eastown Theatre was one of these.
The Eastown was built between 1926-1930, had 2500 seats, six-foot high dome, gold-gilded ceiling, marble stairway, stores, apartments, office space, and a ballroom. Admission: 15 cents for the afternoon, 25 cents for evening, 35 cents for Saturday and Sunday nights, and all kids could get in anytime for ten cents. The grand opening took place on October 1, 1931 at 6:30 pm with the Clark Gable film, “Sporting Blood”.
For 36 years the Eastown ruled that area for movie-goers...but with rock concerts overshadowing movies, the Eastown finally closed down in 1967. For the next two years, the place was renovated, ripping out all the glitzy stuff and tearing out the movie seats in order to make room for the rock crowds...yup, rock concerts were coming to the Eastown.
The first rock show featured Detroit band SRC on May 29, 1969, with tickets just $3 or $5. For that same price, you could see Alice Cooper, the Amboy Dukes, Joe Cocker, Cream, Faces, Fleetwood Mac, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson, Kinks, MC5, Rush, Mitch Ryder, Bob Seger, Steppenwolf, Stooges, Who, Yes, and many more.
Once the Eastown went from flicks to rock, the place was plagued with deaths, drug busts, fire violations, dope dealers, and getting busted for operating without a proper license. Even though the capacity was 1,727, crowds of over 3,000 would cram inside.
Free Press reporters infiltrated the rock crowds disguised as patrons in order to acquire some drugs of their own for proof of what what was going on. According to Historic Detroit, there were “more than a dozen dope dealers operated every weekend.....reporters mingled with the young people patronizing the dealers … watched dozens of sales, and found it a simple matter to buy pills and powder hawked as mescaline, amphetamines, barbiturates, LSD, cocaine and heroin.”
Licenses were pulled, violations were ordered, and the Eastown closed. Not long afterward it re-opened, on July 1973 with headliners Joe Walsh and REO Speedwagon.
With more discovered dope deals, the Eastown closed again.
It was re-named the Showcase Theatre and opened late 1975 featuring stage plays and jazz concerts. Then the Detroit Center for the Performing Arts staged their own plays, acting workshops, and kid shows. Later when it was taken over by a church, they tried to sell it to no avail...it was abandoned in the mid-2000s.
With scrappers stealing all the copper and metals out of the place, walls began to tumble and it was time for the city demolition crew to come in and wrap it up. In the final week of November 2015, they finished the job and the Eastown was no more.
Before it was destroyed, some images were captured of its appearance, inside and out, which you can see in the gallery below...
Abandoned Eastown Theatre, Detroit
MORE OLD THEATERS: