Group works to save Main Art Theater in Royal Oak

Friends of the Main Art are planning a rally on April 9 ahead of an April 12 public hearing on the plan to demolish the theater.

Friends of the Main Art are planning a rally on Saturday, April 9. Group members say independent theaters like Main Art are rooted in their communities and are worth saving.

 

Nearly a year ago, the beloved cultural venue Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak shut its doors suddenly and left this message on the marquee: “Landlord kicked us out. It’s been a fun ride. – the Main Art Crew 1941 – 2021.”

The message confused and shocked local residents and film fans across metro Detroit, leading to the creation of a movement to save the theater from demolition. Last week, the Main Art’s building owners filed plans to demolish the theater and build a five-story mixed-use building with retail, restaurants and private residences. But advocates say the fight is not over yet.

“[The closing of Main Art] is an immense loss for so many people and for this region, and we just feel like we couldn’t let it pass away without doing our best to see that we do everything we can to preserve that theater and the spirit of the Main Art Theatre,” says Jason Krysiak, a founding member of Friends of the Main Art, a nonprofit founded last summer with the goal of saving the venue.

Main Art was one of several shuttered by operator Landmark Theatres last year.

 

A controversial sign posted on Main Art Theatre’s marquee confused and shocked fans last year when the theater closed.

Pam Murray, another founding member of Friends of the Main Art, says there are two types of theaters: the multiple-screen cineplexes, which could be “in any strip mall or suburb anywhere in America” and then the “tiny little old-school downtown, small-town cinemas like the Main Art that are surviving and thriving across the United States and a lot in Michigan in these little small towns being taken over by nonprofits with a dedicated fan base.”

She points to Traverse City, “which is also having many controversial discussions about overdevelopment and land use issues,” Murray says. “And somehow with a population of 15,000 people, they are supporting two historic nonprofit-run largely arthouse cinemas and we have almost four times the population just in Royal Oak, not talking about all the people that are Main Art fans from the surrounding communities that come in. We can most certainly support one.”

Krysiak agrees.

“These are the institutions that are going to survive … these theaters rooted in the communities they exist in, not dictated from California [where Landmark Theatres is based] or wherever, rooted in their communities and screening films catered and cultured towards their residents.”

Krysiak says the group met with the property owners, A.F. Jonna Management & Development Co., over the winter on potential ways to preserve the theater. The group came up with plans to save the marquee as well as trying to have a micro-cinema in the building’s new plans.

“We made our case that we can run this theater in a nonprofit model that creates a profit stream for them as far as paying the lease that they weren’t getting for two years, but also preserving this cultural institution, in the heart of Oakland County, in the heart of Metro Detroit,” says Krysiak, referring to the theater operator Landmark, which reportedly said in a statement last year it was returning the property to the landlord “based on a business decision that the theatre could no longer be operated viably.”

“I’m encouraging people to show up if they have land use concerns and cultural change concerns about what the downtowns of some of the small towns are turning into.” —Pam Murray, Friends of the Main Art

Ultimately, Krysiak says, they decided to move forward with demolition.

The Royal Oak Planning Commission will meet on Tuesday, April 12 for a public hearing on the proposal.

Ahead of the Planning Commission meeting, Friends of the Main Art are planning a rally on Saturday, April 9.

For Krysiak and Murray, the mission to save the theater is personal.


Listen: Jason Krysiak and Pam Murray on why it’s important to save theaters like Royal Oak’s Main Art.

 


When Krysiak and his wife were looking to buy the house that eventually became their home, Krysiak says he walked from his home in Pleasant Ridge to Main Art.

“It was a 20-minute walk and I said, ‘You know what? This is where I want to raise our family,” Krysiak says.

Beyond personal reasons and fond memories, Murray says saving Main Art is about addressing changes in land use and culture.

“We’re very much hoping that everyone will show up [to the April 12 Planning Commission meeting] and I’m encouraging people that aren’t even art cinema fans to show up,” Murray says. “I’m encouraging people to show up if they have land use concerns and cultural change concerns about what the downtowns of some of the small towns are turning into.”

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  • Amanda LeClaire is Host of CultureShift and is a founding producer of both of WDET's locally-produced daily shows. She's been involved in radio and the arts in Detroit for over a decade.