Archives: Michigan


The Vanity Ballroom in Detroit in the summer of 2012.

The first time I saw the ballroom in 2007, I barely had time to look around before being chased out by someone who claimed to live downstairs (the bottom floor was once occupied by stores and is now in a pretty destroyed condition). At that time there was hardly any graffiti and the wood floor was still up for a few dances. Since the stairway was busted wide open earlier this year, the building is going the way of so many other architectural gems in this city. For reference, the Detroit News recently published a nice historic photo of the space as part of its essay Detroit Dances Through Time.

As one person who saw the above photo has said, “it looks like a huge outer space jewel has crashed through the ceiling”. It’s not just the overall view that reminds of gemstones. A closer look shows a level of ornamentation that must have really dazzled the theater’s visitors when it first opened its doors.

The Michigan Theater in Detroit was built by the architecture firm Rapp & Rapp, which employed a French Baroque style to assist in transporting wonder to the audience. George Rapp didn’t consider the lavish design elements of his theaters to be overly pompous, but rather the necessary “part of a celestial city — a cavern of many-colored jewels, where iridescent lights and luxurious fittings heighten the expectations of pleasure.” Famous as the historic theater that was eventually gutted and turned into a parking garage, its ceiling continues to retain some of this former opulence.