The Fine Arts Theatre – Where Detroit’s Past Meets its Future

The Fine Arts Theatre - Where Detroit's Past Meets its Future

It has been exciting to watch Detroit make its comeback. Driving home from a Detroit Tigers’ games, you can see all the change that is happening in Midtown. As this part of the city goes under redevelopment, property values are going up.

In an area of Detroit that was once known for as being full of crime, today hopeful businesses and new residents are moving into the area. On the edge of Midtown’s gentrification, you will find a theater that years ago, was in the middle of the violence that occurred in Detroit.

The theater itself, the Fine Arts Theatre, located on 2952 Woodward Ave, has its own spotted past and is now for sale. This century-old theater was once a part of a murdered drug dealer’s real estate empire. The sale of this theater is now bringing up questions of ownership and unsolved murder mysteries.

The Fine Arts Theatre in Detroit: The Origins

According to the Detroit Free Press, the building was completed in 1914 when Detroit was a different city. The man behind the design was C. Howard Crane, the same architect of the Fox Theatre downtown.

Until the 1970s, the theater showed first-run moves then switched to classics until it closed in the 1980s. It was used for night club events until the owner, Joe Foster, was shot and killed two blocks from the theater.

It wasn’t long after Foster was shot and killed that his alleged drug trade accomplice and girlfriend, Bernice Foster, was murdered.

The Detroit Free Press reported that Foster owned several properties in and around Brush Park. He was known as a paternal figure of sorts in the area.

Foster struggled to keep the property taxes paid. In fact, he lost the theater because of unpaid taxes in the mid-80s. He was able to obtain the property again in the 90s, but the Free Press reports that he still struggled with the property taxes.

In 1997, Foster was indicted along with almost was dozen other men. These men were charged with drug trafficking, money laundering, food stamp fraud, and more.

While many of his properties were seized, the Fine Arts Theatre was not one of them. That same year, Foster was fatally shot.

This Is Where the Ownership Starts to Get Tricky

With Foster’s money problems in mind, he would go out and borrow money from someone and hand them a “quitclaim deed with some interest in it.” While the lender would leave the meeting with Foster thinking he or she had the only deed the existed, that wasn’t true.

That is was happened to Gwendolyn Washington who took over the theater after Foster’s death. The Free Press reports her hosting jazz, comedy, rap concerts, and small dinners. However, the deed had never been recorded.

Eventually, the police raided the theater due to Washington operating without a stage show license.

The family of Joe Foster claimed that in 1998, Wilma Jean Foster, the daughter of Joe Foster, sold the property to T.G.R. Group. T.G.R Group was headed by Detroit native, George G. Rider Jr.

While Rider was serving time in prison, he met a woman named Valerie Atikian. In 2002, T.G.R. Group hired Atikian to obtain financing for renovations. She also helped to run the theater while Rider served his prison sentence.

The Free Press reported more complications when the Brava Entertainment Group provided $500,000 for renovations. The owners of Brava Entertainment were Atikian herself and John Yousi.

The Brava Entertainment group then bought the property in 2003. However, Rider contended the transaction. Rider said that it wasn’t meant to be a real estate claim and Atikian had betrayed him by recording the sale, as reported by the Free Press.

Later Rita Atikian, Valerie’s sister, signed paperwork making her an owner of the theater. Valerie sited her money and legal problem to her sister as the reason.

Shockingly, in 2007 Atikian was murdered in the theater.

The Detroit police have been unable to identify the whether or not the title dispute had any connections to Atikian’s murder.


This theater has been at the heartbeat of Detroit and is now for sale. The Free Press reports that the owner will not be identified, however, the real estate agent assures that the title is sound.

Your Turn

What will happen to this theater? Will it be gentrified? Let me know what you think should happen when Detroit’s past meets its future.

The Fine Arts Theatre Photo

“Midtown Woodward Historic District” by Andrew Jameson is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.