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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
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.

https://redfordtheatre.com

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.






 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
A couple evenings of work and things are already coming together!

Monday evening was spent disassembling the existing platforms and rebuilding them with a bit more structural integrity. In past years they've been set up on cinder block pilings. This is fine for our train displays and temporary use for a live show here and there. The theater has increasingly made use of the platforms as an extension of the stage when the trains aren't utilizing them so I decided that something needed to be done to make the whole thing sturdier and most importantly for our purposes, more level and flat across the table surface. We managed to accomplish all of that.

Tuesday evening was spent laying down our white painted masonite sheets over the top of all of the platforms. In years past these panels served two purposes. They evened out the bumps that generally turned up at the joints between all of the 4'x8' tabletops and the white paint serves as a better backdrop for the snow material to make it more vibrant vs just laying it down over the black painted stage platforms. With all of our reconstruction work, the tables are about as flat as we're ever going to get them and it's a nice smooth surface all the way across the entire thing. Now our panels simply serve as a nicer backing for our snow material. I'm excited about this part because we had a number of trains donated a couple of years back that we ultimately haven't been able to run due to them being picky when running over the uneven tabletops. Track related derailments should be a thing of the past now!

Track was also sorted out and laid down in the approximate location that it will eventually be mounted. I learned several years ago to install Christmas light strings across the tabletops anywhere there isn't track running through. The backlit snow helps to illuminate the exteriors of the buildings and other details in an area of the theater that is very dim due to the indirect house lighting (it's an "atmospheric theater" designed to make patrons feel as though they're outside under a starry night sky). The track gets temporarily laid down as a guide so that I can install the lights without any ending up beneath the track sections. Once the lights are installed next week we'll pull the track back up, lay the snow material down and reinstall it all over again with screws to keep it in place. From there we can begin wiring the track and placing buildings/figurines. Certainly not difficult work, but quite time consuming and tedious.

New structure beneath the platforms

Fixture Wood Floor Composite material Tints and shades


Track laid on the main level to facilitate installation of the Christmas light strings. The upper platforms retain their lights, snow and track while stored during the off-season since they're only used for the train layout. This saves quite a bit of work every year aside from having to replace the snow material every few years as it gets quite dusty/dirty in the theater over time.

Textile Interior design Rectangle Architecture Decoration
 

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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.

https://redfordtheatre.com

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.






Great set of videos. Thanks for posting them and good luck on this year's performances.
 

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Looking good, that is some heavy duty under structure. Christmas train displays are always fun to watch.

Bill
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Looking good, that is some heavy duty under structure. Christmas train displays are always fun to watch.

Bill
Thanks! The platforms themselves were built years ago and have been used in various configurations for all sorts of different live shows on stage. They're 2x4 frames with 3/4" plywood tops. We've had upwards of 40 kids dancing on them for a musical in their train layout configuration (not when the trains were set up 😁) so I figured the sturdier we built things below, the better for safety. We likely have twice as many legs as is really necessary, but I figured it would allow more flexibility for future needs as now each 4x8 table can free-stand on its own without being bolted into the rest of them.
 

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Thanks! The platforms themselves were built years ago and have been used in various configurations for all sorts of different live shows on stage. They're 2x4 frames with 3/4" plywood tops. We've had upwards of 40 kids dancing on them for a musical in their train layout configuration (not when the trains were set up 😁) so I figured the sturdier we built things below, the better for safety. We likely have twice as many legs as is really necessary, but I figured it would allow more flexibility for future needs as now each 4x8 table can free-stand on its own without being bolted into the rest of them.
I might have missed it, are you adding anything new to the display?
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I might have missed it, are you adding anything new to the display?
We acquired a couple of “new to us” train sets last year as donations so those will likely see plenty of running time. Aside from that I haven’t spent much money on anything new this year. We still have time though… I blew my train budget and then some collecting a good amount of Lionel prewar items from the early 20s for another display I’m doing for the holidays at the museum I work at so I haven’t been overly motivated to spend more for the theater display 🙄😁
 

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Now you have to post another thread here for the museum.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Now you have to post another thread here for the museum.
I'll definitely share more as we get further along. Up to now it's mostly been acquiring the equipment so there isn't much to share about the project specifically. Although the collection is quite cool. I have some minor restoration work to do on a couple of pieces that I'll document as I go. I should have more to show for myself in December once that event starts.
 
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