Tuesday, February 23, 2010

X-Rated Rochester

Got your attention, didn''t I? And for those of you who are wondering, "where's the picture that goes with this post?" - you are out of luck. This is a family-friendly blog.

The recent news about the Detroit City Council's efforts to control the number, location and nature of strip clubs in Detroit reminded me of the Rochester area's own struggle with the same issue almost thirty years ago. The controversy involved the Northcrest Cinema at 298 W. Tienken Rd., near the intersection of Rochester & Tienken.

The Northcrest was a conventional movie theater when it opened in 1976, with a 352-seat auditorium less than half the size of the Hills Theatre. Problems developed four years later, after the ownership had changed and the theater began to offer x-rated fare. Avon Township officials made an attempt to shut the Northcrest down, and there were citizen protests complete with picket lines, but the theater prevailed against the initial challenges on First Amendment grounds. The Oakland County Sheriff's Department conducted at least three raids on the business, which successfully defended its right to stage nude "amateur nights" in 1986.

After Avon Township became the city of Rochester Hills, the new city enacted a zoning ordinance in 1987 to control the location of adult entertainment venues that might be proposed in the future. Northcrest Cinema was not located in an area zoned for such use, but had to be grandfathered in because it was established before the ordinance was adopted. The theater owners pressed their luck in 1988, however, when they applied for permits to remodel the building. The proposed work would have removed the theater-style seating in favor of lounge seating and renovated the stage to better accommodate live nude entertainment, in essence converting the theater to an adult nightclub.

City officials denied the permits for the work, and the two sides headed to court once again. The Northcrest owners filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the city's zoning ordinance, but the city prevailed. After spending nearly ten years in an adversarial relationship with city government, the sheriff's department, and neighbors in the area, the owners gave up and closed the Northcrest Cinema for good in late September 1989. In reporting the news of the theater's demise on its front page, the Rochester Eccentric quoted Rochester Hills mayor Billie Ireland:
I'm delighted -- I would even be happy to send them a bon voyage card. It's been a long fight over the last 10 years to encourage them to leave. I'm extremely delighted they are leaving after so many years. That makes my day.
The following year, the former Northcrest Cinema space was renovated and converted to a child care facility, closing the book on the area's x-rated episode.


  1. While an RHS student, I was involved in making a 30-minute Super 8mm film called All This And Kong II, a Mel Brooks-style parody (I wrote several scenes and was in it briefly). The Northcrest graciously allowed us to show it on three weekends, and the premiere was very well-attended; I think the limos that delivered us there were from Potere! This was, of course, prior to the theater going off in a different direction; apparently it was the subsequent ownership that brought that about. The film is a nice look at (in part) 1979 Rochester, with the climax being the ape's fall from King's Bikes and Things. Certainly suitable for all audiences. I never attended the theater after the switch, but was really disappointed at the locals who tried to vandalize the marquee sign, etc.--a very childish reaction. Of course, it later became a child care facility, in a stunning irony.

  2. My dad and his buddy Dave used to run that theater between 1983-1985. Dave was the manager and my dad did the accounting, because he had sort of recently graduated from Walsh College and new how to do that stuff. He dated a dancer their, because my parents got divorced in 1981. I used to play with my Star Wars figures on the floor in the video tape rental aisles. I think Dave died of Aids shortly after the Rochester Family Communities picketing finally forced it's closure. I would have been 9-11 at that time. and went to Woodward, then North Hill Elementary.