Carrying signs reading ‘Small screens matter’ and ‘Save our gem’, a group of about 200 residents gathered outside the closed Main Art Theater in downtown Royal Oak on Saturday afternoon to rally for its preservation.
The beleaguered local landmark, which first opened to moviegoers in 1941, closed permanently in June 2021 and is now at risk of being demolished to make way for a new five-story mixed-use development.
Organized by the nonprofit organization Friends of Main Art, the rally kicked off at 2 p.m. with an explosive performance by the Detroit Party Marching Band, followed by speeches and calls to action from organizers.
“It’s about us coming together because we love this community,” said Jason Krzysiak, president of Friends of Main Art. “We love this theatre. We love the memories, and we love the evenings and the days we spent in this theater with our loved ones and friends.”
Friends of Main Art activists hope to see the property converted into a nonprofit community theater inspired by similar concepts in Farmington and Detroit.
“Supporting community theaters in a not-for-profit model is highly sustainable,” Krzysiak said. “It provides sustainability for these theaters because they have access to memberships, they have fundraising, they have access to grants and core funding.”
Read more: The Royal Oak Main Art Theater could be demolished to make way for new development
Read more: Closed Main Art Theater in Royal Oak has a group trying to save it
Prior to its closure, the theater, which is owned by Bloomfield Township-based AF Jonna Management & Development Co., was operated by Landmark Theatres. It was known for bringing foreign art house films to the big screen, as well as hosting independent film festivals and popular midnight showings of cult classics.
Ellen Murad, a Berkley resident and film student at Oakland Community College, said she grew up going to movies at the Main Art Theater and the building and its history mean “everything” to her.
“That’s where I fell in love with movies,” she said. “That’s why I fell in love with independent cinema and that’s why I’m in film school now. I want to make movies and the love came from here.”
Saturday’s rally came just days before the Royal Oak Planning Commission is due to consider the redevelopment proposal at its next monthly meeting, which organizers have urged theater supporters to attend in order to make their voices heard their voice.
“We want everyone to email the planning commission, we want everyone to show up at the planning commission,” said Friends of Main Art volunteer Kevin Maher. “But if Tuesday’s vote … doesn’t go the way we want, that’s not the end. It’s just the beginning.”
The meeting is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Royal Oak Town Hall. For more information on the effort to save the Main Art Theater, visit friendsofmainart.com.
Lauren Wethington is a breaking news reporter. You can email her at [email protected] or find her on Twitter at @laurenelizw1.