|Reported on 9/13/2010 8:42:50 PM - Detroit Free Press|
Death knell for rock 'n' roll landmark Eastown fire spells doom, demolition
BY BRIAN McCOLLUM FREE PRESS POP MUSIC WRITERIn a blow to Detroit's preservationist community and rock history buffs, the city appears set to lose another storied landmark. The Eastown Theatre, a onetime movie palace
and concert hot spot on Harper near Van Dyke, has been targeted for demolition by the City of Detroit following an early Monday fire. The theater itself was not substantially damaged by the blaze, which destroyed an adjoining apartment wing. But it makes up the bulk of the vacant structure, which was condemned and affixed with a demolition notice Tuesday afternoon. The notice indicates that the building could be razed within coming days.
It's another sad chapter in a long list of historic structures that have been left for dead, said Michael Hauser, a Detroit theater historian. Attempts to obtain comment Wednesday from multiple city officials were unsuccessful. The Eastown complex, which opened in 1931, played a variety of roles during its eight-decade life. It was a 2,500-seat cinema through the 1960s, home to a performance arts group in the '80s, site for techno raves in the '90s, headquarters for a Christian ministry in the '00s.
But for Detroiters of a certain age, the Eastown will be most remembered for its high-flying rock scene in the early 1970s, when it noisily succeeded the Grande Ballroom as the city's go-to rock venue. While the Grande had captured the flower-power spirit of the '60s, the Eastown embodied the grittier, harder-edged vibe of the era's evolving rock and drug culture. Amid the venue's ornate interior and lush blue seats, touring acts such as the J. Geils Band, the James Gang and the Who were booked alongside local stars such as Bob Seger, Ted Nugent and the Stooges.
The Eastown quickly earned a notorious reputation, targeted by city officials and the news media for overcrowding, hard drug use and vandalism. The venue was shut down by the city in 1971, and reopened for a brief spell two years later. A 1973 Free Press article described the scene during a concert by Joe Walsh, when the sweet, pungent smell of marijuana, popcorn and sweat mixed with the blaring rock music and shouts. I remember going in as a kid and being shocked.
It wasn't that communal, family-oriented feel like the Grande, recalled Martin (Tino) Gross of the band Howling Diablos, who attended Eastown shows during his high school years. It was a scarier neighborhood, more ominous. The music was fantastic. But the Eastown was like going into a hell pit of rock 'n' roll.
Detroit preservationists have noted that several exterior fixtures disappeared from the building in recent months. The building was most recently owned by Deeper Life Ministries, a Christian group that housed residents in the apartment wing until 2004. If this truly puts an end to any renovation possibilities, it's just sad, said Karen Nagher of Preservation Wayne. It's really a shame to lose this.