On its opening on April 30, 1930, “this new Spanish Palace of delicate beauty” was heralded by the Jackson Citizen Patriot as bringing to Jackson a “new Temple of entertainment.” The theater's terra-cotta-clad facade is one of the finest examples of a movie theater facade in Michigan. Gold, green, and blue terra-cotta shields, diamonds, and swags add dynamism to the cream-colored Art Deco exterior. Over three stories high, the facade has a balustrade above the entrance, four arches springing from Churrigueresque columns, corbel tables, and arcading. A hexagonal tower crowns the building. The theater's L-shaped floor plan is a common space-saving design that allowed the auditorium to be sited on a different axis from the lobby and entrance, an accommodation to its shallow downtown lot.
The Michigan Theatre is a monument to the indecision that gripped the movie industry and theater design at the end of the golden age of the movie palace. Because sound was installed in almost all motion picture theaters by 1930, theater design began to change. In Architectural Forum for November 1929, Clifford Swann advocated the elimination of curved surfaces and protruding plaster because they interfered with the speakers. Sparse, low-relief plaster ornamentation in Art Deco style, or no ornamental plaster at all, was the common decorative practice. But in 1930 motion picture exhibitors were uncertain if sound motion pictures would last, if vaudeville would revive, or if legitimate theater would become popular again. The Michigan Theatre stood at the crossroads of technological and design changes. Significantly unaltered but not fully restored, the Michigan still embodies the uncertainties of the movie and entertainment industry.