When the State Theatre opened on the corner of S. Burdick and Lovell Streets in July 1927, it brought the "atmospheric" movie palace experience to Kalamazoo. Built for the W. S. Butterfield Theater chain, it was constructed in 9 months for $350,000. Originally it featured vaudeville shows and silent movies. Today it functions as a live performance venue.
An Eberson Theater
The State was designed by renowned theater architect John Eberson of Chicago. He adopted a Spanish motif for the interior and facade. Originally seating up to 1,300 people, the interior is reminiscent of an ornate Spanish courtyard. The interior walls resemble elegant building facades. The ceiling is painted dark blue with twinkling electric stars, and moving clouds are projected across it for an outdoor atmosphere. The auditorium, lobby and mezzanine are decorated in a Mediterranean color scheme with pottery, furniture, wrought iron, statues and paintings. The exterior facade utilizes buff-colored tapestry brick and ornate terra-cotta accents.
In 1964, the theater went through some drastic modernization. The original 45 foot vertical sign on the corner was replaced with a horizontal marquee over the box-office. The ornate interior was stripped of some of its original decor. However, recent preservation efforts have helped to restore the original splendor of the State.
Barton Theatre Organ
The State is also home to a Barton Theatre Organ, which accompanied silent pictures from 1927 to 1937. With the advent of "talkies," it was silenced until 1950. It was fully restored in 1961 and put back into service. The original organ is still used for special presentations.
In 1982, Butterfield decided to stop showing first-run movies at the State and closed it due to poor profits and the proliferation of the suburban movie multiplex. Efforts to save the theater from a tragic end were pursued by several local entrepreneurs and preservationists. After years of uncertainty, Kalamazoo's State Theatre has survived to attract a wide variety of performers. It is one of the few remaining "atmospheric" movie palaces in the United States.