Fans rally to save the famous Royal Oak Theater

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A spirited rally drew at least 100 people to downtown Royal Oak on Saturday as part of ongoing efforts to save the popular Main Art Theater from a potential wrecking ball.

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

Many carried colorful signs that read ‘Let the Main stay’ and ‘Art exposure matters’ as the Detroit party marching band kept morale high, prompting passers-by to honk their horns in support .

“We need to do everything we can to ensure that this theater is preserved,” Jason Krzysiak, president of Friends of the Main Art, told the crowd. “We love this theatre. We love the memories.”

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

The popular 81-year-old theater at 11 Mile Road and Main could be replaced with offices, retail and residences. A proposal by AF Jonna for a five-story, multi-use development on the Main Art site will be presented to the city’s planning department for review on Tuesday.

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

“We want to execute it,” Krzysiak said on Saturday. “We should direct it.”

Tearing down the theater would be “detrimental” to the city, Krysiak said. “(Building condominiums on the property) does not improve the city, it does not improve surviving properties, and it does not promote walkability.”

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

The Main Art Theater had huge appeal as a boutique-type cinema showing art and independent films as well as cult films screened on Friday and Saturday nights before it closed last summer. Prior to the early 1990s, the theater showed commercial movies and films and other conventional types.

After falling into obscurity last summer, the marquee read: “The owner kicked us out. It was a fun ride. … RIP 1941-2021.”

Krysiak said that while the theater owners are asking for $5 million, Friends of the Art Principal would like to lease the theater to keep it standing.

Krysiak said his group had asked Democratic Congressman Andy Levin to help seek federal grants and other funding if Friends of the Art Principal were successful in convincing the theater’s owners to agree to a rental plan.

“There’s a win-win solution here,” Krysiak said on Saturday. “Beyond the historical and cultural significance, and we believe it is significant, there would be an economic impact (of a demolition) that is going to be detrimental to the town of Royal Oak.”

Supporters of the Main Art Theater displayed their signs to lobby 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 meaningful role in keeping the art in downtown Royal Oak.”

“I love this place,” Levin told protesters.

Jessica Bultman, who watched movies such as the popular documentary “Bowling for Columbine” at the theater while in high school, said the theater “holds a special place in my heart, (and) I want to see this place prosper”.

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

Royal Oak resident Reynold Sutake said demolishing the theater would not only destroy a historic building, but would be “another win for the big-money crowd” who fund more modern, commercialized theatres.

The Royal Oak Town Planning Department is due to discuss the future of the Main Art Theater at 7pm Tuesday at Town Hall.

Friends of the Main Art encourages residents of Royal Oak to email the city’s planning commission and urge members not to approve the demolition of the theatre.

Krysiak said a lawsuit to stop the demolition would be the “worst-case scenario”.

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