'Let the Main remain': Fans rally to save revered Royal Oak theater

A lively rally drew at least 100 people to downtown Royal Oak Saturday amid efforts to save the popular Main Art Theatre from a possible wrecking ball.

Royal Oak residents and other fans braved chilly temperatures to show their support for the venerable theater and drum up support from others.

Nancy Greenia of Royal Oak carries a sign outside the Main Art Theatre in support of saving the structure in Royal Oak on Saturday, April 9, 2022.

Many carried colorful signs that read "Let the Main remain," and "Exposure to Art is Important" as the Detroit Party Marching Band kept the spirits high, prompting passersby to honk their horns in a show of support.

"We have to do everything possible to keep this theater preserved," Jason Krzysiak, president of the Friends of the Main Art organization, told the crowd. "We love this theater. We love the memories."

The Detroit Party Marching Band plays outside the Main Art Theatre in support of saving the structure in Royal Oak on Saturday, April 9, 2022.

The popular 81-year-old theater at 11 Mile and Main may be replaced by offices, retail and residences. A proposal by A.F. Jonna for a five-story, multi-use development at the Main Art site will go before the city Planning Department for consideration on Tuesday. 

Friends of the Main Art, formed in June, wants to lease and manage the Art Deco-inspired movie house through a nonprofit, community-based business model, Krzysiak said.

"We want to run it," said Krzysiak Saturday. "We should be running it."

Demolishing the theater would be "detrimental" to the city, said Krzysiak. "(Building condominiums on the property) does not provide improvement to the city, it does not enhance the surviving properties and it doesn't foster walkability."

Jason Krzysiak, president, Friends of the Main Art Theatre, at the rally on Saturday, April 9, 2022.

The Main Art Theatre had a huge draw as a boutique-type movie house offering art films and independent cinema as well as cult films shown on Friday and Saturday nights before it closed last summer. Prior to the early 90s, the theater showed commercial and other conventional-type movies and films.

After going dark for the last summer, the marquee read: "Landlord kicked us out. It's been a fun ride. ... RIP 1941-2021."

Krzysiak said while the owners of the theater are asking $5 million, the Friends of the Main Art would like to lease the theater to keep it standing.

Krzysiak said his group has asked Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin to help look for federal grants and other funding if the Friends of the Main Art are successful in getting the theater's owners to go along with a leasing plan.

"There's a win-win solution here," said Krzysiak Saturday. "Beyond the historic and cultural significance, and we think it is significant, there would be an economic impact (of a demolition) which is going to be detrimental to the city of Royal Oak."

Supporters of the Main Art Theatre displayed their signs to push to preserve the popular theater in Royal Oak on Saturday, April 8, 2022.
Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Levin attended Saturday's rally and made brief remarks pledging his support for the group, saying, "I want to play a helpful role in keeping art in downtown Royal Oak."

"I love this place," Levin told the protesters.

Jessica Bultman, who watched movies such as the popular documentary "Bowling for Columbine" at the theater while she was in high school, said the theater "has a special place in my heart, (and) I want to see this place thrive."

Nancy Greenia, a Royal Oak resident, said she was a longtime patron of the theater. "We need a variety of arts and entertainment," Greenia said.

Royal Oak resident Reynold Sutake said tearing down the theater would not only destroy a historic building but be "another victory for the big money crowd" that finances more modern, commercialized theaters.

The Royal Oak City Planning Department is scheduled to discuss the future of the Main Art Theatre at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

Friends of the Main Art is encouraging Royal Oak residents to email the city's planning commission and urge members to not approve demolition of the theater. 

Krzysiak said a lawsuit to stop demolition would be the "worst-case scenario."