On this Day in Movie History, August 13, 1885: Charles Howard Crane Born

It was on this day, August 13, American architect Charles Howard Crane was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Establishing a practice in Detroit, Michigan early in the 20th Century, like Thomas W. Lamb and John Eberson, Crane specialized in the design of movie palaces in North America. Crane’s career would include some 250 theaters in total, with 62 of them in the Detroit area.

His 5174-seat Detroit Fox Theatre was the largest of the Fox Theatres. The 4,500 seat Fox Theatre in St. Louis was its slightly smaller architectural near twin. These were considered to have been his architectural masterpieces. Among the 5 massive Fox theaters, Crane also designed the Brooklyn Fox (4,088 seats, razed).

Crane was a genius at giving his venues great acoustics. Among his best theaters were Orchestra Hall (2,286 seats, temporarily renamed the Paradise Theatre), the former and once again home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Capitol Theatre (3,384 seats, and now the home of the Detroit Opera House and Michigan Opera Theatre).

Crane also designed Olympia Stadium (Detroit Olympia), which eventually had seating for 13,375 plus standing room for 3,300. Olympia, used by the Detroit Red Wings, was razed in 1987.

Crane also designed many office buildings. Most of his many downtown Detroit movie palaces had attached office towers that he designed (the Fox, United Artists, State, Capitol). However Crane’s office tower masterpiece was in Columbus Ohio, the 47 story 555 ft. tall Leveque Tower.

Due to the Great Depression that started in late 1929, C. Howard Crane’s theatre and office building commissions dried up. He became disillusioned and in 1930 moved to London, England, although he kept his Detroit office open for many years after moving. Crane designed many cinemas across Britain, but in much tamer designs than his American movie palaces.

Crane’s most famous U.K. commission was Earls Court Exhibition Centre, an Art Moderne convention center that opened in 1937.

He returned to visit Detroit once or twice a year until World War II. He then remained in London, where he died and was buried in 1952. His namesake descendants (C. Howard Crane III, et al.) now live in the Detroit area.


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