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Royal Oak

Going back to its roots

July 16, 2008

Photo by Deb Jacques

Justin Miller, general manager of the Royal Oak Music Theatre, stands in front of the theater. They will be hosting an 80th anniversary event to commemorate the theater’s history on July 26.

Royal Oak Music Theatre

to re-create 1928 opening

night this Saturday

ROYAL OAK — When Kunsky Theatre first opened its doors on Fourth Street on March 6, 1928, the demand to get inside was so great, more people were turned away than were able to get inside the 1,700-seat movie theater.

A little more than 80 years later, owners of what’s still a local hot spot — now named the Royal Oak Music Theatre — want to re-create that night with a special anniversary event.

“We wanted to give it a little bit of an anniversary celebration,” said Leah McCarthy, publicity director for the theater’s owner, AEG Live.

The theater will be playing the 1928 silent film, “The Circus,” starring Charlie Chaplin, and an “Our Gang” short film at 8 p.m. on July 26.

McCarthy said “Sporting Goods” was the first film shown on the screen, which kicked off Civic Week that year in Royal Oak.

“It is with Paramount,” she said about the film. “It was next to impossible to get (now).”

Instead they’ll show the Chaplin movie, which may have been shown on the screen during its opening year, McCarthy said.

“I’ve been looking through old newspapers on microfilm, and was able to see some of what was shown that first year,” she said.

During that first night, 1,700 people got into the theater, but 2,000 were turned away at the door, according to a local paper that reported on the event, McCarthy said. Tickets to the first show were 35 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.

The Royal Oak Music Theatre will be attempting to replicate some of those prices, with 25-cent popcorn the night of the show.

Doors for the event open at 7 p.m., and old photographs will be placed around the theater. McCarthy said they have worked closely with both the Royal Oak Historical Society and Royal Oak Historical Commission.

“They both have come together to help us,” she said.

Muriel Versagi, curator of the Royal Oak Historical Society’s museum, said the theater has a rich history, along with the Baldwin Theatre and the Main Art Theatre, all built in the same era and all still in use today.

“Those are all very important historical pieces of Royal Oak, and it’s wonderful that they are all still there and being used today,” she said.

The Kunsky Theatre showed movies and had vaudeville performances. It was much later that the theater began featuring musical and comedic performances as it does today.

Versagi said the theater was a very important part of the community when it opened.

“In that time there was no television, no real radio, so the theater was terrific entertainment,” she said.

Versagi said she hopes that if the event is successful that the theatre will hold more silent movie nights.

During the event, David Heidt, the grandson of the building’s original architect, Frederick D. Madison, will be on hand and give a short talk. Madison was the architect to many of the city’s most iconic buildings, including Royal Oak High School, the Royal Oak Woman’s Club, the Washington Square Building and the Masonic Temple.

Tickets to the movie are $10 and can be bought at the theater’s box office, which is open noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tickets can also be purchased at For more information, call the Royal Oak Music Theatre at (248) 399-2980.


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