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Wayne State University

Public Relations

Bonstelle: Celebrating 100 Years of History

October 22, 2003
The historic building at 3424 Woodward Avenue, currently known as the Bonstelle Theatre, reaches its 100th birthday milestone this year. The Light Up the Bonstelle campaign, inspired and created by the students of the Wayne State University Department of Theatre, will be launched at the Bonstelle Theatre's season opener, Much Ado About Nothing, on Friday, October 24, to commemorate the importance of this cultural monument and raise funds to illuminate the building.

Members of the Bonstelle Theatre and Hilberry Theatre Companies have expressed a deep passion for the rich history of the building and the storied past of its namesake, Jessie Bonstelle. They have designed a campaign to celebrate the contribution of this building and its many occupants to the cultural and architectural landscape of Detroit. The goal of the campaign is to raise enough money to increase visibility of the Bonstelle by lighting the front facade of the building and to replace the house lighting system. But the ultimate wish of the students is to light the Bonstelle's dome.

Steeped in history, the home of the Bonstelle Theatre has been a part of the Detroit's landscape since 1903 and continues to provide a place of culture for the Detroit city area. Designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn and originally commissioned as the Temple Beth-El, the building was opened on January 24, 1903. Albert Kahn is best known for his industrial architecture related to the auto industry. One of Kahn's most notable projects is the famous Fisher Building, which shows his abilities outside of the industrial realm.

Jessie Bonstelle, known as "the maker of stars," purchased the Temple Beth-El for $500,000 and with the help of the famous architect C. Howard Crane, she converted the building into the Bonstelle Playhouse. In 1928, the Bonstelle Playhouse received financial backing by the city of Detroit and became the Detroit Civic Theatre.

In the 1930's, the Bonstelle building became the Mayfair Motion Picture Theater. Wayne State University rented the building in 1951 as a performance space for the theatre company and purchased it in 1956, renaming it the Bonstelle Theatre in honor of Jessie Bonstelle. The Light Up the Bonstelle campaign kicks off on October 24 and runs throughout the Bonstelle's 2003-2004 season ending on May 2, 2004. The upper lobby, the Bonstelle Room, will house a display illustrating the building's history. Patrons are encouraged to support the Light Up the Bonstelle campaign through donations towards the campaign's goals. For more information, please call (313) 577-3010.
  • Contact: Deana Trapani
  • Voice: (313) 577-5126
  • Email: theatrepr@wayne.edu
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5700 Cass Avenue, 3100 Academic Administration Building * Detroit, Michigan 48202
Phone (313) 577-2150 * Fax (313) 577-4459 * Newsline (313) 577-5345