Fillmore Detroit reopens after a summer of paint and polish

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Historic downtown theater Fillmore Detroit spent the summer getting scrubbed, buffed, re-tiled and repainted as part of a series of upgrades to the 93-year-old venue. 

The main stage area got a thorough cleaning as well as new paint on the ceiling and walls.

The Fillmore, which hosts concerts and private events, will reopen to the public Saturday with its first concert since late spring, showcasing electronic musician Zhu. An invitation-only networking event is planned for Friday night. 

Visitors will walk on fresh carpet past a new chandelier in the theater's lobby before entering the main hall where the revamping is most visible. Murals on either side of the auditorium, which were previously covered with curtains, have been restored by New York City-based EverGreene Architectural Arts. They recreated them from scratch using old photos. 

A new chandelier hangs from the main lobby ceiling where Detroiters and music lovers from around the world have passed to see an impressive list of artists since 1925.

General Manager Ben Doughty said he thinks people will most notice the paint restoration of the auditorium ceiling and the scagliola pillars that flank each side of the stage. He said the columns alone took six weeks to restore. The stage also has all-new curtains up and down stage. 

"Ninety-three years in the making," Doughty said. "There were areas that had never been touched by a human in 93 years, so to have that restored, for me personally, I was part of the team that came in and took over in 2003, when Forbes Management group took over the operations ... I very quickly realized that this was a dream of mine to see this (restoration) realized."

The alcove paintings on the third level are once more bright and beautiful.

The metal knights on either side of the stage — which a few rock stars have been known to interact with during a performance (Courtney Love, we're looking at you) — have been given a noticeable polish. 

The bars inside the theater have been updated, too, including a new cherry wood bar top with brass inlays replaces the old Formica bar at the venue's main drink station. The State Bar next door is also getting a complete facelift with new paint. This was still under construction Friday afternoon. 

New tables and chairs have been brought in to surround the main floor and general admission area, which Doughty said should make for more comfortable seating.

New tiles have been laid on the basement bathroom floors, and dated sinks and mirrors have been replaced. 

A new digital marquee is planned, too, which Doughty said should go up by the end of the November.

"It'll be similar to the Fox (Theatre) ... it will replicate what's out there now, it will just be more modern, all LED, the soffit will be redone, all LED lighting under there," he said. "It's going to be beautiful." 

None of these upgrades included any changes to entry security. Doughty said the Fillmore is maxed out on the number of metal detectors at the front doors. In recent years this has, depending on the concert, created a line that sometimes stretched blocks for those looking to get into the venue as doors open. 

Doughty said a "safe environment is worth the wait" and that his staff does what it can to organize the line and keep guests informed.

Fillmore Detroit general manager Ben Doughty sits near the restored murals inside the 93-year-old theater.

"Unfortunately we live in a world where security checks have become really important," he said, adding that those who don't mind coming in a while after the doors open see less of a wait to enter. "We've seen enough around the world and around the country that I personally don't mind a security check when I go somewhere. It makes me feel more comfortable." 

The Fillmore Detroit is at 2115 Woodward. The 2,200-capacity venue is owned by Live Nation and Forbes Management, who partnered on the renovations but would not disclose how much money was spent. 

The Fillmore opened in 1925 and was known as the State Theatre through most of the 20th century. It was re-branded as the Fillmore Detroit in 2007.

Twitter: @melodybaetens