#29 Lafayette Theatre

(52 Ancestors #29 – Musical)

I couldn’t think of anyone that would fit into the “musical” category (although I did play the clarinet in 6th-8th grades), so I thought I would focus on someone that worked in a Detroit theatre. Or more specifically, focus on that theatre.

In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census (enumerated April 27, 1910), my great-grandmother Mae Oakes was listed as aged 19 (although she was born May 18, 1892 and, if my math is right, that would make her 17 almost 18). Mae had been married in December 1908 to my great-grandfather, but he wasn’t living with her in 1910. Anyway, her occupation was ticket-clerk at “Laf. Theatre.” She and her mother Mina were lodgers of Alta Fisher at 77 W. Elizabeth St.

77 W. Elizabeth St. didn’t exist in the 1921 Old and New House Number for the City of Detroit, but 79’s address was changed to 203. If I look at Google Maps now, 203 is about at the corner of W. Elizabeth and Clifford, smack dab in the middle of parking lots for Comerica Park and Fox Theatre.

billy_repaid_1
An autographed photograph of reporter Billy Repaid who worked for WJR in the 1930s. Apparently he was an acquaintance of my great-grandmother’s from the theatre days. His inscription to her says, “With kindest regards to ‘Mae.’ Remember the LaFayette, huh? Billy Repaid”

The “Laf. Theatre” listed on the 1910 census stood for the Lafayette Theatre. Here’s a little history on the theatre where my great-grandmother worked. The Lafayette Theatre first opened in 1893 as “Campbell’s Empire Theatre.” According to the New York Dramatic Mirror of 12/30/1893, it was built on the former Latimer’s Livery Stable and was located at 17 and 19 Lafayette Avenue, near Griswold.

Empire Theatre on the 1897 Sanborn Fire Map (Detroit, vol. 1, sheet 2)
Empire Theatre on the 1897 Sanborn Fire Map (Detroit, vol. 1, sheet 2)
large
Empire Theatre, between 1893 and 1904. From http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/38410/photos/42725

The Empire Theatre closed in May 1904 and reopened as the Lafayette in August 1904. In Polk’s Detroit Directory of 1907, the Lafayette was located at 15-17 Lafayette Blvd. Here is an ad from Wood’s Official Railway guide from about 1909.

lafayette1909
Advertisement for Lafayette Theatre from 1909 about the time my great-grandmother worked there as a ticket clerk
lafayette
The theatre’s listing in the Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide for 1909-1910 (p. 218)

Sometime before 1913, the Lafayette came down and a new theatre, called the Orpheum, went up in its place. It opened in 1914.

orpheum
Orpheum Theatre, at the corner of Shelby and Lafayette (https://digitalcollections.detroitpubliclibrary.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A158954)

In 1925, the interior was completely remodeled and the theatre was eventually named the Schubert-Lafayette. It was demolished in 1964. The spot is now a parking lot for the Dime Building.

Other Citations:

Hauser, Michael. “Downtown Detroit’s Magnificent Movie Palaces.” Presentation at the 2013 Michigan in Perspective: The Local History Conference.

http://historicdetroit.org/building/shubert-lafayette-theatre/