Day 202: State Theatre Kalamazoo

State Theatre
Photo courtesy of State Theatre

The history of the Kalamazoo State Theatre reads a little like CBGB in New York City. The Ramones, Chris Cornell, Tim Allen, Metallica, The Beatles (1964 the Tribute), Henry Rollins…the acts that have graced the stage of the State and continue to put on shows are a part of music and entertainment history. It’s a great venue tucked in downtown Kalamazoo with beautiful décor, great acoustics and a bar (with Bell’s Beer on tap of course)!

State Theatre Ceiling
Photo courtesy of James Bevins

The Kalamazoo State Theatre has roots back to 1927, so you can bet it’s seen some great acts through the years. It seems every act comments on the beauty of the theatre, from the deep blue ceiling painted to look like the night sky complete with twinkling stars, to the walls that look like buildings at an old shipyard. In fact at Chris Cornell’s show in December he said “Just beyond these walls are the tall ships,” and that’s how the theatre decor feels. It’s a great place to see a concert, show or movie (it’s where you can Warren Miller ski movies every year).

Local bands used to play the State quite a bit. The Verve Pipe played here before The Freshmen catapulted them some to success and they toured with bands as big as Kiss. Kalapalooza featured bands like Knee Deep Shag and Thought Industry. The local music history of the State Theatre is a lot of fun to hear about. If you saw a band there, tell us about it in the comments!

According to the website: The State Theatre has been a fixture in downtown Kalamazoo since 1927. The original founder of the theatre was Colonel William Butterfield. John Eberson was the renowned architect who designed the theatre. In line with theatre design conventions of the era, the idea was to create a unique atmospheric effect. The early roots of the theatre were found in the Vaudevillian tradition of performance. Many acts that frequented the State Theatre included opera, dramas, big bands, ballet, dance reviews, stage shows and movies.
The State Theatre was renovated in 1964. These renovations included the removal of the original theatre sign which was beginning to deteriorate with age. It was replaced with a new marquee that is located above what used to be the original box office. These renovations changed the some of the original ornate look and feel of the theatre, but enabled it to continue operating until 1982.
The State Theatre was closed by W.S. Butterfield Theatre Inc. that same year. The closing of such a historic part of Kalamazoo began to mobilize community members. Local arts groups and city officials formed the “Save the State” committee in an effort to preserve the theatre’s legacy along with the building. The solution came when the building was purchased in 1985 by the Hinman Company. The purchase bought about further renovation and worked to preserve a part of Kalamazoo’s history.

Of course, since Gibson Guitar Corporation was founded in Kalamazoo in 1902 and the city sits halfway between Chicago and Detroit, concerts seem like a natural fit for the city. With bigger venues in other cities, that’s not always the case for huge acts anymore. However, you can still catch great shows at the State Theatre. It’s definitely a great place for a concert, comedy show or movie.

Word of advice: parking is sometimes an issue in Kalamazoo. Be sure to stay away from the private parking lots. The lot across the street from the State is open for parking during shows, or the street. Plan a few extra minutes for this, as you might have to walk a little ways. ~Dan Moyle, State Theatre Fan