I waited and waited.
I raised the interest, and then when I had some takers, I stalled.
The Burton Theatre in Detroit was recently written up in the New York Times. Someone came to the bar a couple of weeks ago, and told me about the article. I looked it up, and promptly posted it to my Twitter account.
Within a day, I had a conversation happening on Twitter and Facebook with a few folks who were very interested in taking a day-trip to Detroit immediately. Friends, Rino and Frances wanted to go right away but my schedule didn’t fit. We planned a week in advance, sent invites to hundreds of people to join us in our treasure hunt, and wound up with myself, my wife, and Frances.
To be fair, I assassinated the plan to go the week earlier when Rino was available. But once again, a few motivated bodies were completely alone in our exploration of ANOTHER of Detroit’s rare spaces. Yes, other Windsorites have been here, but this opportunity to go in numbers was supposed to coax others to join in.
Tom & Jho at theatre doors
The Burton Theatre is a converted section of an elementary school on Cass Avenue. It’s three minutes (or less) from Comerica Park, one block east of Woodward Avenue.
It has been re-purposed to house patrons of the independent-film-ilk.
Perfect theatre snacks
The theatre is tiny, with proper theatre seats, and perfect theatre snacks.
Parking in the (as advertised) secure lot, there was one other car. And the lot was not fortified, or behind locked gates. But as we pulled in, I saw a hunched young man carrying some stuff toward the defunct school.
“Nathan!” I shouted. I added him on Facebook after I read the New York Times article, and told him how proud I was of his awesome achievement.
He spun around a looked.
“It’s Tom from Windsor! There is a show at 2pm, right?”
“Oh hey! Yeah. Just park, he’ll watch your car,” he said, then turned around and walked around the corner of the building.
My wife, Jhoan, and our friend, Frances, laughed at his response, because he simply gestured to the other car in the parking lot…which we eventually realized was the “guard tower” for the secured lot.
This was more than sufficient for us, so we parked, got out, and swiveled our heads.
Looking across the street, there was a questionable used furniture store called “Mantra”.
Birdtown, across street from Burton Theatre
“Chickens!” Frances yelled.
And beside that, furniture store was “Birdtown”, with several chickens and roosters running free. It reminded me of something Stephen Hargreaves regaled to me once about a scene in Corktown he’d seen with goats and pigs.
We ran over, took a few photos, and crossed back to the theatre.
Playground and blight
Walking around back, following directional signage, we were led by a string of light bulbs on a fence. On the other side of the fence was a new-ish orange and green playground, inaccessible. Fifty yards away from the quarantined playground was a building in severely plundered disarray. It was jarring. We stopped to take it in, visually, and conceptually.
Directly inside the front doors was the teeny-tiny ticket window, cut out of a door, with more than enough bars protecting the ticket seller. Bullets could barely fit through the slits.
Large art, Frances, and Jhoan near the ticket window
Love-seat near the stairs
We got our tickets from “not Nathan”, and headed upstairs into the quiet building. Large mural art and other strange accoutrements were on the walls, and a love-seat made itself available in the main entrance.
Jhoan heads up to the movie
Getting upstairs, the food and drink counter stood, with the incredible smell of fresh buttered popcorn, and the popcorn maker sharing a frame with Nathan himself, behind the counter. We got chatting about the recent press. The good and bad times they’ve already endured since opening in October. Scarface seemed to be a great movie idea at the time, but according to Nathan, if you can rent it, people are very apprehensive to see it in the Burton Theatre.
Nathan Faustyn, one of the owners of The Burton Theatre, working the counter
Nathan told us that the developer that bought the building has now rented out other sections of the building to other artistic endeavors, including gallery space. We’re geeked to see more in that same building on our next trip over, if those other developments do indeed pan out.
I scored a Faygo Redpop, and Jhoan secured some Raisinettes, and we headed in…the three of us.
Frances enters the dark, short theatre
It was a dark, short theatre. A short walk to the screen. It was clearly on an old grade school stage. Something about the retrofitting made you look for all the signs of what this space WAS. The four lamps that hung were especially nice touches, and the wooden floors, wooden stage, and HUGE baseboard heaters on either side of the room were not lost on us. We loved them all. We sat, pointing out all the little things about the space we could find.
Faygo Redpop, Willem Dafoe, and Chloe Sevigny in a movie trailer
My favourite thing, through watching Cold Souls (starring Paul Giamatti, as himself), besides the movie was the heaters kicking in and hissing loud enough for me to notice. I loved that the history of this building was still getting in its words edgewise. “Thissssss wassssss a sssssschoool,” it seemed to say, “now it’sssss ssssssomething elsssssssse.”
Cold Souls movie poster
We greatly enjoyed this film, which wasn’t playing in Windsor and likely never will, unless the Windsor International Film Festival brings it to town in the summer. Which means, upon extrapolation, that there will be many more great films showing daily at the Burton Theatre, which is a nice reassuring feeling. We found this gem of an experience, because it wanted to be found. Nowhere that I’m aware of can we yet see independent (small budget) films being screened daily in Windsor. So we went to where it was being provided.
Men's Lounge - 1
A slightly less-exciting deviation from the films, I had the supreme pleasure of taking the long, twisty walk to find the “Men’s Lounge” in the basement…where I was greeted with a pool table in a gigantic “boys” bathroom where it would be easier to wash my shins in the sink than my hands. Enjoy the photos below.
Pool table in the bathroom panorama
We were (I am) greatly appreciative that we have easy access to this place. Sitting quietly, largely, in one of the most unique cities in the world…15 minutes from my own business in downtown Windsor…on Cass Avenue…or as the baseboard heaters would say, “Casssssssssss.”
Men's Lounge - 2
Men's Lounge - 3
Men's Lounge - 4
Old film projector at short urinal
Sink at my knees