Traverse City's State Theatre combines world-class, state-of-the-art presentation with the classic hometown movie palace experience. The world’s most comfortable seats, delicious and affordable concessions, a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, and unparalleled picture and sound are just some of the reasons why the Motion Picture Association of America listed the State as the #1 movie theater in the world.
Owned and operated by the Traverse City Film Festival, under the leadership of founder, president, and programmer Michael Moore, Traverse City’s historic downtown movie house was renovated and reborn as a year-round, community-based, volunteer-run arthouse movie theater in 2007. Fostering a sense of community and discovery by showing only the best available new release and independent films, the State is dedicated to presenting a carefully-curated selection of movies that capture the human experience in transformative ways. We also offer Friday Night Flicks, weekly 25¢ classic and kids matinees, and over 350 free and low-cost community events annually.
The twinkling stars in the State Theatre's atmospheric ceiling were mapped by Northwestern Michigan College Astronomy Professor Jerry Dobek to exactly match the stars and constellations of the August night sky of Northern Michigan. Over 2,000 fiber optic lights of varying sizes were painstakingly installed through holes placed in the ceiling to create one of the great treasures of American movie theaters. You can visit the J. H. Rogers Observatory or the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society.
On July 4, 1916, Julius Steinberg opened the Lyric Theatre to compliment his Grand Opera House immediately west of the property on Front Street. The Lyric opened with the silent film “The Iron Strain” starring Dustin Farnum. Ticket prices were 15¢ for adults and 5¢ for children.
On January 17, 1923, the Lyric was destroyed in a fire and subsequently reopened on December 20, 1923, with the movie “Hearts Aflame” based on the story “Timber” by local author Harold Titus. The Lyric showed silent films and also hosted weddings and other events.
In September 1927, Butterfield Theatres took over management of Lyric from the Fitzpatrick-McElroy chain. Con Foster, who worked for Fitzpatrick-McElroy, was retained as local manager for Butterfield, a position he held with only a brief interruption until his death on April 3, 1940.
At midnight on March 29, 1929, the Lyric showed “Lucky Boy” starring George Jessel, the first “talkie” film run in Traverse City. At this special showing, a short clip of Herbert Hoover’s inauguration speech was also screened. The Lyric was the first theater in Northern Michigan to operate Vitaphone-Movietone equipment.
The Lyric was destroyed by fire once again on January 3, 1948. It was subsequently rebuilt and reopened on June 30, 1949 with a new name, the State Theatre. The first film shown at the State was “It Happens Every Spring” starring Ray Milland and Jean Peters. Ticket prices were 35¢ for adults and 12¢ for children.
On September 10, 1978, the State Theatre was closed for remodeling — the owners split the single theater into a twin with two small screens. The last movie shown in the single auditorium State Theatre was “The End” with Burt Reynolds. The theater was operated as a twin by GKC for several years before it closed again in 1996.
The State Theatre Group and Rotary Charities kept the theater safe from weather and time while plans were made for its future. In 1996, Barry Cole and the State Theatre Group purchased the theater from GKC and announced plans to convert the State into a performing arts complex. Then, in 2003, the State Theatre Group and Interlochen Center for the Arts announced a partnership to renovate the theater. The building wound up in the hands of Rotary Charities, who very generously donated the State Theatre to the Traverse City Film Festival in May of 2007.
Following a complete renovation, the Traverse City Film Festival officially reopened the State Theatre on Saturday, November 17, 2007, showing “The Kite Runner.”
Theater Grand Opening, Then Called the Lyric — July 4, 1916
After the First Fire: Newly Reopened Lyric — December 20, 1923
Newly Reopened Lyric Theatre Lobby — December 20, 1923
The Lyric Theatre and Downtown Traverse City — Fall 1941
The Second Fire — January 3, 1948
The Newly-Renamed State Theatre — June 30, 1949
Shortly After the 1949 Reopening — July 14, 1949
GKC Twins the State's Single Screen — September 8, 1978
Shortly Before GKC Closes the State in 1996 — July 15, 1995
Traverse City Film Festival in the State Theatre — July 31, 2005
Rotary Donates the State to the Film Festival — May 30, 2007
Renovation Begins — October 12, 2007
Reconstruction — October 22, 2007
Making the Starry Ceiling — November 8, 2007
State Theatre Grand Reopening — November 17, 2007
State Theatre On Its Three Year Anniversary — November 17, 2010
Photos courtesy of the History Center of Traverse City, John Robert Williams, Gary L. Howe, Tony Charles, John Russell, and the Traverse City Record-Eagle.