The State Theatre

Historic Downtown Picture Palace

Kalamazoo State Theatre interior. photo: Kalamazoo State Theatre | The Hinman Company.

When the State Theatre opened on the corner of S. Burdick St. and Lovell Streets in July 1927, it brought the “atmospheric” movie palace experience to Kalamazoo. Built for the W. S. Butterfield Theater chain, it was constructed in 9 months for $350,000. Originally it featured vaudeville shows and silent movies. Today it functions as a live performance venue.


An Eberson Theater

The State was designed by renowned theater architect John Eberson of Chicago. He adopted a Spanish motif for the interior and facade. Originally seating up to 1,300 people, the interior is reminiscent of an ornate Spanish courtyard. The interior walls resemble elegant building facades. The ceiling is painted dark blue with twinkling electric stars, and moving clouds are projected across it for an outdoor atmosphere. The auditorium, lobby and mezzanine are decorated in a Mediterranean color scheme with pottery, furniture, wrought iron, statues and paintings. The exterior facade utilizes buff-colored tapestry brick and ornate terra-cotta accents.

Kalamazoo State Theatre postcard view c.1930. Private collection

In 1964, the theater went through some drastic modernization. The original 45 foot vertical sign on the corner was replaced with a horizontal marquee over the box-office. The ornate interior was stripped of some of its original decor. However, recent preservation efforts have helped to restore the original splendor of the State.


Barton Theatre Organ

The State is also home to a Barton Theatre Organ, which accompanied silent pictures from 1927 to 1937. With the advent of “talkies,” it was silenced until 1950. It  was fully restored in 1961 and put back into service. The original organ is still used for special presentations.


Survival

In 1982, Butterfield decided to stop showing first-run movies at the State and closed it due to poor profits and the proliferation of the suburban movie multiplex. Efforts to save the theater from a tragic end were pursued by several local entrepreneurs and preservationists. After years of uncertainty, Kalamazoo’s State Theatre has survived to attract a wide variety of performers. It is one of the few remaining “atmospheric” movie palaces in the United States. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in late 2021.

Sources

Articles

“Playhouse Rises, Ornate and Stately, in 9 Months”

Kalamazoo Gazette, July 13, 1927.

“The State Theatre: Kalamazoo’s Spanish Courtyard”

Alexander, Jerry
Kalamazoo Review, April 1976, pp.13-15.

“A State of Mind: From Vaudeville to Verve Pipe, the State Theatre Rolls with the Times”

Ciokajlo, Mickey
Kalamazoo Gazette, March 24, 1997, page 6:1, column 1.

“Saving the State: In Kalamazoo, One of the Last Grand Old Movie Palaces is Threatened”

Christian, Donna A.
West Michigan, January 1984, pp. 41-43

“Theater added to the National Register of Historic Places”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 December 2021, page A2, column 1.


Local History Room Files

Subject File: State Theatre

Orange Dot File: State Theatre


Websites

State Theatre

State Theatre Inventory 1989 (PDF) (courtesy of the Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Office)

Correspondence relating to the State Theatre inventory PDF (courtesy of the Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Office)

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