Architectural Signs: The Fillmore Detroit

Ace Sign Co. renovates the Fillmore Detroit's marquee.
Architectural Signs: Ace Sign Co. renovates the Fillmore Detroit's marquee

Across the country, many cities have recently renovated the marquees of their nearly century-old downtown theaters. With many built in the 1920’s, these lavish entertainment palaces featured intricate and elegant designs on their facades, through which throngs entered to marvel at The Jazz Singer, to cry during Gone with the Wind and more. Then, as the decades passed, more and newer theaters opened, while nightlife shifted away from the often inner-city locations of those original movie houses, leaving many to decay and disrepair.


But some are being rejuvenated, including two winning projects from our recent Signshop Competition. Another of these theaters, the Fillmore Detroit, an iconic venue in the heart of the Motor City’s downtown historic district, recently required a facelift for its marquee. Ace Sign Co. (Springfield, IL) was selected by events promoter and venue operator Live Nation to produce the replacement marquee for the 94-year-old venue. Ace Sign had worked with Live Nation before, most notably, a co-branding sponsorship sign package with Live Nation and Cricket Wireless at venues across the US.

"The Ace Sign Co. design team worked to create design variations that honored the history and tradition of the marquee, while utilizing current technology,” said Scott Bringuet, CxO (chief experience officer) for Ace Sign, which he says, “honors the traditions of hand-painting and neon bending, while constantly pushing modern innovations such as digital displays and automated fabrication. This same respect of signmaking carries into our design team.”

That team carefully considered the Fillmore’s architecture, with the new marquee designed primarily in the same fashion and style as the original. However, Ace Sign proposed two enhancements that included a raised, 3D icon on the front, and two bullnose accents covered in bulbs on either side, Bringuet said. The project used a range of design programs to achieve 3D models and schematics for both concepts and fabrication drawings. In total, the design stage lasted approximately four weeks and included three architectural variations.


The Fillmore’s changeable-copy marquee was changed to an EMC.
The Fillmore’s changeable-copy marquee was changed to an EMC.

Once Live Nation had approved the design, Ace Sign used 3D-modeling software to create a flattened version of the marquee’s skin, which was fully cut by their in-house laser and CNC. “The components were hand-welded and assembled with meticulous attention to detail to match specifications,” Bringuet added. Ace Sign also made the obvious change from the original’s changeable-copy marquee to one featuring an EMC, or high-resolution digital display: two 10 x 20-ft., 10 mm Watchfire Signs LED displays within a 50-ft.-wide structure, adorned with more than 500 bulbs. The letters sitting atop the marquee and twice spelling out “THE FILLMORE” are 5 ft. tall with over 1,000 exposed LEDs, and a multidimensional lighted “F” logo functions as the centerpiece.

Had the theater been closed for a time and the street blocked off, the install would have been easy – but no. “The theater was fully operational both prior to the new marquee and during the marquee installation process,” Bringuet said. “This in part was a logistical challenge as construction and operations needed to coincide.” The workaround was accomplished by creating a scaffolding structure and tunnel for entry, combined with installing around show schedules. A team of five installers and a lifting crane performed the primary lift, while wiring, finishing and assembly were completed via a working platform. Given this gradual installation, there was no official lighting ceremony. “The sign slowly came to life, sparking the interest and intrigue of passersby,” Bringuet said. “The Fillmore is truly a landmark in the community, so the upgrade of the marquee came with curiosity and a variety of opinion as it slowly transformed.”

With the Fillmore’s marquee fully renovated using a combination of historic architecture and modern technology, the theater will be fully equipped to celebrate its centennial in six years. As a final comment, Bringuet stressed the importance of integrating both architecture and branding. “We believe signage is an extension of architecture and branding, and constantly work to best blend the two.”