When Rabbi Leo M. Franklin first began leading services at Detroit's Temple Beth El in 1899, he felt that the construction of a new temple building on Detroit's "Piety Row" stretch of Woodward would increase the visibility and prestige of Detroit's Jewish community. Accordingly, in October 1900, the congregation held a special meeting at which it was decided to build a new temple. A site for the new temple was purchased in April of the next year, and Albert Kahn, a member of the congregation, was hired to design the building. Groundbreaking began on November 25, 1901, with the ceremonial cornerstone laid on April 23, 1902. The first services were held in the chapel on January 24, 1903, and the formal dedication was held on September 18–19 of the same year.
The temple is a Beaux-Arts structure influenced primarily by Roman and Greek temples. Sobocinski cites the Pantheon in Rome for comparison. There is a prominent dome over the main area of the temple, with gabled wings on the north and south. A pedimented extension on the front once extended into a porch; the front section of the building was lost when Woodward was widened.
When the Temple Beth El congregation built another building farther north along Woodward in 1922, they sold the building at Woodward and Eliot to Jessie Bonstelle for $500,000. Bonstelle hired architect C. Howard Crane to convert the building into a theater, naming the resulting building the Bonstelle Playhouse. In 1928, the Bonstelle Playhouse became the Detroit Civic Theatre, and in the 1930s became the Mayfair Motion Picture Theater. In 1951, Wayne State University rented the building as a performance space for its theater company, and purchased it outright in 1956, renaming it the Bonstelle Theatre in honor of Jessie Bonstelle.