Blog: Joe Zainea

A peek at the playbills of the Majestic Theater and the Magic Stick live music venues shows that every day is a different act. How does Joe Zainea, longtime owner of The Majestic entertainment empire, keep things fresh from week to week? Follow on for his tales of revival and survival.

Post 2: The Making of the Majestic

The Garden Bowl, aka The Garden Bowling Alley, and, later, Garden Recreation, opened on August 1, 1913. It was built by Ive Giese and John Bauer. Mr Giese was an executive with GM and Mr. Bauer was an old bowling alley man. It had 10 lanes on the first floor and a billiard parlor on the 2nd. It went only to where the first poles are located. The rest was the roof over the 1st floor lane. The billiard parlor was fantastic. It was grand stands to watch tournament play.

It lost its luster when the Detroit Recreation was build on Lafayette St in downtown Detroit. It had  88 lanes on four floors and pool tables on another four floors. One floor of the billiards was made for tournament play. The first floor had facilities for men, such as a hat shop, a barber shop, men's fashion stores, shoe store and a cleaners. It was a working man's country club. The Garden Bowl was a smaller version of the same.

In 1926 they built over the lanes of the 1st floor from where the first poles are located (near DJ Booth) to the back wall adding 12 lanes. It was the hottest bowling spot in the nation.  Groups of hot shots from other major cities would challenge the Detroit bowlers and they would use the Garden because it was a neutral alley. Detroit's hot shots played at the Casino Recreation on Woodward and Temple.
The Garden Recreation went into receivership during the depression of the early thirties and the bank holding the paper hired the manager named Roy Fleming  to run the place until Mr Bill Nagy bought it in 1939. Mr. Nagy had a heart attack in 1945 and died and Mrs. Nagy put up the place for sale. 

Albert Zainea, my father, owned several businesses at the time and one of them was a slaughter house on the Eastern Market. The owners and workers of the produce houses and slaughter houses used to play poker on the 2nd floor of the Gratiot Central Market, which was bowling alley called Alcona Bowl. The owner told my dad about the Garden being for sale and he began to run the place under a management contract until he bought it in August 1946. It had ten lanes on the first floor and twelve lanes on the second.

The place was packed with business since WW2 ended and Detroit had a herd of people living in what is now Midtown Detroit, perhaps as many as 700,000 people. They lived in SRO (single resident occupancy) hotels.  The men would live in the far-out burbs and take a train into the E. Grand Blvd/Beaubien station and cab it to their jobs on Monday mornings. They would share the room with others who worked a different shift. They stayed in Detroit from Monday morning until after work on Friday and departed for the burbs again. They caused a hell of lot of business for bars taxi dance halls, and theaters. We had seven bars within a block of the Majestic. We never closed. It operated 24 hours a day. Jackpot bowling would go on all night until it was time to go to work the next day. We had leagues upon leagues bowling all hours of the day and night. The people were prosperous because of the shift from war time production back to autos. We were jammed.

In 1947 my dad modernized the place with a suspended ceiling and drapes on the side walls and carpeting, things never heard of before. We had installed new florescent lighting. The cat's meow at the time. It's the same ceiling today.
In the 1960s the war veterans began to marry and buy new houses with no down payment in the close-in suburbs, like Roseville, Dearborn and Oak Park. We called them Levittowns. Every house looked the same. They would build a house a day, selling for $8000 with no money down on the GI bill of rights. Well, you could see what that did to the city centers. They we devastated. Bowling alleys were built on every other corner along with movie houses. " Wow, I live in the Grand Oaks subdivision, where do you live?" It was the measurement of success. Such foolhardiness.
The Garden Bowl had about 1,500 league bowlers in the early 1960s and had only 300 after the 1967 riots in Detroit. We rebuilt the business with hard work and an appeal to the African Americans. We started a "Learn to Bowl+" program, where we taught the new customers how to bowl at no charge at all. We organized leagues from them and we developed 2,000 new bowlers by 1970. The seventies were prosperous again for the Garden.
In the late eighties the African American crowd also started to leave for the suburbs and we went into tough times again. We had to file reorganization under Chapter 11. In four years we came out of the bankruptcy and began to prosper again. We encouraged the young urban minded kids, some the grandchildren of former customers, with Rock-n-Bowl and other hip events. It worked. Also in the seventies and eighties we started to manufacture trophies, plaques and awards and silk screened shirts in what was the old Majestic Theatre. Later, we moved that operation to another building.
The Majestic Theatre was built in 1913 and opened on March 1, 1915 with a Broadway play called Molly Codell with Douglas Fairbanks. It was a classic theater at the time, with stadium style seating. It had two organs, one in the pit and another on stage with the pipes on the side walls. It sat 2100 people. It featured silent movies and Vaudeville. Later it became a second-run movie house and then a third run and still later went to cheap movies, open all night. It became a church for a rouge name Prophet Jones and still later a photography center for auto commercial for the new television industry. Later we leased it to make the trophies, etc. 
We added the Majestic Café  from what was the Gnome Restaurant in the eighties. We made a hip menu that appealed to everyone from the young to the old, from the college kids to the symphony goers. It worked again. We added the Majestic Club in 1984 and it took off. Starting with an underground club and later to national touring rock bands.
In 1992, we removed eight of the bowling lanes on the 2nd floor and added pool tables and a dance floor and stage. It went over very well with bands. A year later we removed the other four lanes to expand the dance area. We called it the Magic Stick, a takeoff of Majes stic.
In 2002 we added Sgt Pepperoni's Pizza on the ground floor of the Garden Bowl and in 2008 we added the Alley Deck, an outside deck serving food and drink.
That is what makes up the Majestic Theatre Center today.