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The Historic Gem and Century Theatres, Century Grille Detroit’s record-breaking little gemThe Historic Gem and Century Theatres and Century Grille have a history of breaking records. Built in 1903 by the Twentieth Century Association, a group of civic and philanthropic minded women, the Century Club set a precedent even before a brick was laid, holding Detroit’s first building permit issued in a woman’s name. The building opened at the corner of Columbia and Witherell streets on December 26, 1903.In 1927, the Century Club completed construction of its adjoining building, the Little Theatre of Detroit. From the beginning, the Little Theatre broke new ground, opening with the first foreign film shownin Detroit, Cyrano De Bergerac. The small theatre continued to show artistic and foreign films until the Great Depression when The Twentieth Century Club disbanded and the Little Theatre and Century Club were lost to foreclosure. The Century Club Building operated as a restaurant under various names until the 1950’s when it was known as The Russian Bear. Over the years, the Little Theatre changed names, ownership, and uses, operating as a movie theatre (Rivoli, Drury Lane, Cinema and Europa), a repertory theatre (The Vanguard) and finally as an adult movie and burlesque theatre (The Gem) until its closure in 1978.Soon after, developer Charles Forbes purchased the entire building, bringing the Gem and Century under single ownership again. In 1990, Mr. Forbes began a complete restoration of the Gem Theatre, using archive photos, re-creation of the original carpeting found in the building, historical chandeliers and theatre seats from the demolished Ambassador Theatre in St. Louis. The theatre reopened on December 31, 1991 as The Gem Theatre with the musical review, The All Night Strut!In 1997, the theatre again closed. Faced with demolition for the construction of Comerica Park, Mr. Forbes negotiated a plan to save the historic structure by relocating it to the corner of Madison and Brush streets. On November 10, 1997 the Gem Theatre completed its five-block journey, breaking the 1986 Guinness Book World Record as the heaviest building ever moved on wheels. Once relocated, the Forbes family began renovation on the Century Club facility. Using photos from the building’s 1903 opening, the facility was restored to its original Arts and Craft style, while preserving architectural artifacts from several demolished downtown buildings. You can see these artifacts in the Pewabic tile from the YWCA pool located under the bar in the Century lobby, leaded glass from the YWCA behind the Century bars, the limestone balustrade which originally lined the top of the YWCA now located along the building’s outdoor patio, and the beautiful stained glass window from the YWCA chapel, now located on the Century staircase.Today, the building is one of Detroit’s most intimate and charming venues. The building has continued its recordbreaking history by presenting SIX of Detroit’s ten longest running shows; Menopause The Musical, Escanaba in Da Moonlight, The All Night Strut!, Shear Madness, Forbidden Broadway, and Forever Plaid.
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