Relive Detroit’s history with The Gem Theatre

Detroit has a rich history of music and entertainment. Folks nowadays can relive their city’s historic past through its beautiful theaters. On the Corner of Madison St. and Brush St. is The Gem Theatre, a theatre known for breaking and setting records.


Before a single brick was even laid, the Twentieth Century Club of civc and humanitarian minded women set a Detroit record of owning the first building permit issued to a woman. On Dec. 26, 1903, the club opened the doors to the former Century Theatre on the corner of Columbia St.and Wetherell St.

In 1927, one member reached out to renown architect George D. Mason, asking him to design an extension to the theatre. The addition was leased by the Little Theatre chain and turned into a one of kind theatre, playing the first ever foreign film here in Detroit, Cyramo De Bergrac. Six years later, the Great Depression drove through Detroit, forcing the Twentieth Century Club to disband and the Century Club/Little Theater to foreclose.

Over the coming years, the Little Theatre underwent name change after name change; becoming a movie theatre (Rivoli, Drury Lane, Cinema and Europa) and a repertory theatre (The Vanguard). Finally,  in 1967, the theatre was named The Gem and operated as an adult movie theatre until it closed down in 1978.

Not long afterwards, developer Charles Forbes purchased the building. In 1990, Forbes started a full-scale restoration of the Gem Theatre, using  photos from archives, a replica of the original carpeting and old chandeliers and seats from the torn-down Ambassador Theatre in St. Louis. On News Years Eve, 1991, Forbes proudly reopened his beloved theatre, The Gem Theatre, to the public with the musical review, The All Night Strut!

Once again the Gem Theatre closed its doors in 1997. Construction of Comerica Park presented a problem for Forbes. To save the building from demolition, he relocated it 1,850 feet to the corner of Madison and Brush Street on Nov. 10, 1997; breaking the 1986 Guinness Book of World Records for the heaviest building ever moved on wheels.

The Gem Theatre being relocated. Photo from

Once the theatre was relocated, Forbes and his family started renovating the theatre. The Century Club building was restored to its original style, while preserving artifacts from deconstructed buildings in downtown Detroit. Inside the theatre, the Pewabic tile from the YWCA pool is underneath the bar in the Central Lobby and glass from the YWCA is behind the bar; limestone from the YWCA ceiling is located in the outside patio and the beautiful stained glass window from the YWCA Chapel is now on the Century stair staircase.

Information from The Gem and Century Theatres website.


The Gem Theatre has set records for presenting six of the longest running shows in Michigan, including: Menopause The Musical, Escanaba in Da Moonlight, The All Night Strut!, Shear Madness, Forbidden Broadway, and Forever Plaid. 

2010-2011 Plaid Tidings, Sister’s Christmas Catechism (Century Theatre) Late Night Catechism 3:Til Death Do Us Part, Sister’s Easter Catechism

2009-2010 Ethel Merman’s Broadway, Forbidden Broadway Christmas, The Marvelous Wonderettes, Caveman (Century Theatre), The Male Intellect (Century Theatre)

2008-2009 Say Goodnight Gracie, The Rat Pack is Back, I Love You – You’re Perfect – Now Change

2007-2008 Escanaba in Love, A Forbidden Broadway Christmas, Menopause The Musical

2006-2007 Menopause the Musical (Century Theatre), The Rat Pack is Back, Respect

2005-2006 Menopause the Musical

2004-2005 Menopause the Musical

2003-2004 Behind the Counter with Mussolini, Shear Madness

2002-2003 Triple Espresso

2001-2002 Shear Madness, 8-Track (Century Theatre), Fully Committed

2000-2001 Escanaba in the Moonlight, Dinner With Friends, Mind Games, Tropical Pickle (Century Theatre)

1999-2000 A Forbidden Hollywood (Century Theatre), A Forbidden Broadway Christmas (Century Theatre), Always Patsy Cline

1993 Forever Plaid

1991 All Night Stru

Shows presented by The Gem Theatre and Century Theatre. Information from

The Gem Theatre Today 

Today, the theatre is no longer known for presenting plays and now hosts weddings, parties and other gatherings. On march 31, the theatre hosted an Opening Day party in celebration of the Detroit Tigers. At the party, people ate, drank and enjoyed watching the game on big-screen TVs, according to The Gem theatre’s Facebook page.

The Gem Theatre is one of Detroit’s most intimate and beautiful venues around. Outside, the theatre patio is quaint and ideal for a cocktail party and the side patio is connected to the theatre’s convenient parking garage. Inside, The Gem Theatre is adjoined to the Century Grill. The grill accommodates 100 guests and is great for weddings and other private events. The Gem Theatre has audio and video abilities, and can host corporate events and ceremonies.

The entrance to The Gem Theatre. Photo from the

If you would like to schedule an event at The Gem Theatre and relive Detroit’s past, drop them a line at (313) 963-9800.

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