Posted by: Kath Usitalo | June 30, 2009

Going to the Picture Show


A rainy evening at the State Theatre

I was strolling Traverse City‘s Front Street, alone. My plans for a sunset photo safari up Old Mission Peninsula had been dashed by the drizzling rain, and as I considered my options I noticed how nicely my turquoise umbrella complemented the red facade of the State Theatre. Or vice versa.

The State is the kind of theatre you duck into to get out of the rain. It has a romantic look and feel. It’s where you go not just to see movie, but a picture show. At the June 30, 1949 grand opening audiences watched “It Happened One Spring.” On a spring day in 1996, the State turned off its projector and locked its doors.

A mural by area artist Glenn Wolff commemorates the State's June 30, 1949 grand opening

A mural by area artist Glenn Wolff commemorates the State's June 30, 1949 grand opening

Filmmaker Michael Moore, who lives in the Grand Traverse region, rallied a corps of volunteers to return the movie house to its former glory, and the renovated State reopened to film audiences in November of 2007. The building also houses the offices of the Traverse City Film Festival, which Oscar-winner Moore founded in 2005.

After plunking down $8 for Easy Virtue, a picture show I knew nothing about (the ticket seller assured me the costumes were worth the price of admission), I settled into a cushy seat under the theatrical starry sky, munched popcorn, and all was right with the world (especially when I realized Colin Firth was in the show).

Watching a movie in a multiplex shoebox just cannot compare to the classic old theater experience.

Fortunately, it seems that there’s an increased interest across Michigan in saving the old film houses. Just a couple of weeks ago, through another dedicated community effort, the renovated 1924 Garden Theater reopened in the Little Finger town of Frankfort.


Decorative gold leaf touches and an old film projector in the Tahqua Land lobby

On a day trip last year to Newberry (about a 30 minute drive from Blue Skies) Paige and I peeked into the lobby of the 1930 Tahqua Land Theatre (Tahquamenon Falls are not far, thus the name) and found a restored gem of a movie house. The interior seating area was dark so we’ll have to return at showtime to see the murals described on the Tahqua Land Web site.

If you’re in the Houghton Lake area plan to catch a first run feature at the handsome Pines Theatre. And arrive early to admire the log structure. Built in 1941, it was designed by C. Howard Crane, whose several theatre projects include Detroit’s Fox Theatre.

Here’s an information-packed source about old moviehouses, drive-in theaters, train stations, tourist traps, and more nostalgic sites across Michigan; I’d like to meet the person behind this!
Check out: Water Winter Wonderland (remember when that was the state’s slogan? Oh, neither do I; I’ve just seen it on old license plates).

Traverse City Film Festival

Oscar-winner MichaelMoore also founded and directs the Traverse City Film Festival, which celebrates its 5th year July 28-August 2. More than 100 films, including the “Woodstock” director’s cut and midwest premiere of
“Julia & Julia,” will be screened at a half dozen venues around town. The event will also honor writer/actor/director Paul Mazursky, who will attend screenings of 3 of his films.


  1. Seeing Blue Skies mentioned above triggered a story I meant to share with you sooner. Before our drive up to Glen Lake two weekends ago, we had to drop off my friend Claretta’s car at another friend’s house. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he lives on a street named Blue skies. How about that?

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