Although a bit early yet, I figured I'd start my normally annual thread to document the construction and operation of my annual Christmas layout in the orchestra pit of the historic 1928 Redford Theatre in Detroit, MI.
For those that may not know (or remember), for the past 10 or so years, I've been constructing an annual Christmas layout at the Redford Theatre which is generally on display at our shows between the beginning of December and usually late February or early March depending on when we find the time to take it all down again. Our 2019 layout was taken down in February of 2020 and by the spring of 2020, our doors were closed due to Covid. Although we were hopeful to be back to operating through our normally busy 2020 Christmas season, we decided to put aside plans for the train display which was ultimately a good idea since we were ultimately closed for several months beyond that point. We've been reopened for a few months now and although money is still tight and crowds small, our loyal patrons are doing what they can to keep our organization afloat. For that reason, we decided to move ahead with plans to put the Christmas layout together this year. Although we're not out of the water yet, it'll be nice to see something normal return again.
The Redford Theatre is owned and operated by the all volunteer staff of the Motor City Theatre Organ Society, who purchased the building along with its original 1928 Barton theater pipe organ in the mid-1970s with the goal of preserving and presenting the instrument in its original setting. Although there are quite a number of theater organs from the silent film era still in existence (many of which have returned to theaters), very, very few are in the buildings for which they were originally designed. The Redford organ is one of only two in Detroit that can brag on that point (the Fox Theater being the other, which is no longer regularly played). The building itself was built as an atmospheric type theater to serve the neighborhood residents of Redford (this portion was later annexed into Detroit), which gave patrons the feeling of sitting under a starry night sky in a Japanese garden. Most theaters of the day had elaborate styling in their interiors as walking in the building was supposed to be as much of an event as the movie itself. All of this was covered over by paint or other means at the beginning of World War II due to the anti-Japanese feelings that were prevalent throughout that time period. Beyond that, further updates and modernizations were completed, further distancing the building from its original styling. By the 1980s, the MCTOS began restoring the building back to its original splendor and it's been ongoing ever since, all through volunteer efforts (or contractors paid for by donations) and supported by a regular showing of classic films and other events to maintain a steady income.
A group of volunteers added a large scale model train display to the annual Christmas decorations which became a popular and ever-growing attraction over the decades that it was assembled. By about 2008 (for various reasons), the volunteer group was unable to construct the display any longer. A local Boy Scout troop filled in with their modular HO scale layout for several years which was nice in its own right, however it simply didn't have the same holiday appeal that the large scale layout did. In 2011 I took on the tradition and converted it to O gauge with ceramic Christmas village buildings. Initially it was a fairly small and not overly populated 8'x12' display with minimal trains running. It has grown to about 8'x20' and through various donations and other contributions it has become far more elaborate (and reliable) than I would have expected during my first attempt. Although it's still not quite as big as the original large scale layout, I'd say we're pretty well on par with the detail work and functionality. Most importantly, it keeps thousands of patrons happy every year, with quite a number of them proclaiming that they come to the holiday shows just for the trains.
Here are some YouTube videos from past years to hopefully prime the pump for the grand return of this annual tradition. Although I thoroughly enjoyed a season off from the strain of doing the display, I'm looking forward to another season.
Tonight will mark the start of the project as we're going to visit the theater to do an initial cleanup and inventory of our supplies to try to help remember where we left things when the last layout came down in 2020.