Detroit’s Gem Theater move documented in aerial images

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Capital News Service
Normally construction for a major project like Detroit’s Comerica Park requires the demolition of everything in its way. One building, however, was fortunate to survive.

Gem Theater, lying in the shadows of Comerica Park and Ford Field, now resides five blocks from where it was built. In 1997, the 2700-ton building was moved on wheels.
Aerial imagery before and after the move shows a city in transition. Not only did the Gem move, but the density of buildings have changed as seen in images from Michigan State University’s aerial photo archive.

There were lot of individual buildings and many parking lots, but only the Gem Theater really stood out, said Jim Schultz, transportation planning manager for the Metro Detroit chapter of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The International Chimney Corporation (ICC) was hired by then owner of Gem Theater, Charles Forbes. He had recently renovated the inside of the theater and didn’t want the progress to be simply destroyed when he found out Comerica Park was coming to town. So he worked out a deal to have it moved, according to the account by Detroit Cinema History.
The ICC, along with several subcontractors replaced the foundation of the building with a structure of steel beams. They slid rubber-tired dollies underneath the steel and moved the whole structure five blocks away, out of the range of the area needed to be cleared for Comerica Park, said Mark Prible, project manager for the ICC.
It took dozens upon dozens of people, with the amount of workers varying greatly on the amount of work needed to be done that day. There was much time for preparation, but the actual move began October 16, 1997 and was set down in its new location on November 11 of the same year, Prible said.
The move of the 2,700 ton building made the Guinness Book of World Records for heaviest building moved, Prible said. The record would fall the next year when the ICC would relocate a 2,908 ton building in Minneapolis.
The former location of the building now host a parking lot directly east of Comerica Park.

Erik Stiem is a reporter for Great Lakes Echo.

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