About a year and a half ago, while I was reading Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford, I discovered that I had a local connection to Joan Crawford. I’d known that while Joan was trying to get started as a chorus girl, she had a brief stint dancing in a club in Detroit, but I didn’t know which club or where it was. But thanks to that book, I not only found out the name, I realized I’d been right past it a hundred times.
When Joan danced there in the 1920s, the club was named Oriole Terrace, which was a pretty swanky jazz joint at the time. It was located on East Grand Boulevard just off of Woodward Avenue (if you’re familiar with the area, it was across from the police station, next to Goodyear). Joan didn’t dance there for long, but it was a pretty important stepping stone in her career. While she was here, she met Broadway producer J.J. Shubert who asked her to come to New York to be part of his new show called Innocent Eyes. When she finished with that show, she went into another Shubert show, which is where she was spotted by Harry Rapf. Harry had her do a screen test, asked her to come work for MGM, and the rest is history.
Aside from the Joan Crawford connection, this theater actually had a pretty interesting history. It was built in 1915 and was originally one of the first duplex movie theaters. The movie house closed in 1922, then it became Oriole Terrace. As the years went by, it went through a series of name changes, but stayed active and performers such as Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Lena Horne and Jimmy Durante graced its stage. (Here’s what the interior of the club looked like in 1960.) In its last incarnation as Grand Quarters during the 1980s and early 1990s, it was a pretty popular place for rock concerts. Bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails all played there.
Unfortunately, after it closed down sometime in the mid-to-late 90s, it fell into a state of disrepair. It was just demolished in January after having been slated for demolition since 2008. It’s too bad that such a historic theater couldn’t be saved (I can’t help but be fascinated by any place where performers ranged from a pre-fame Joan Crawford to Diana Ross and Kurt Cobain), but I’m glad that I was at least able to find out where it was and get a glimpse of it while it was still standing. Now I can’t help but think of Joan every time I’m at Woodward and East Grand Boulevard.