Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The legendary Elmdale Theatre

I've been excited to get to this post. I've intentionally waited a while to cover it, because the Elmdale Theatre is one of my favourite topics, and I was looking forward to digging in deeper into it's history. This building, which is now a church at the southeast corner of Wellington and Hamilton, has a 70-year history in the neighbourhood, and is indelibly linked to many of the memories of those who grew up in the neighbourhood. Often I meet people who are relatively new to the area who ask me if the building used to be a theatre, since it looks like it is. I'm happy to say that it was a theatre, and always add that I wish it still was today. I have a lot of childhood memories of going to that theatre. Saying that makes me sound old, and realizing that its been closed now for 22 years makes me definitely feel old, since it doesn't seem that long ago that I was checking out new movies there with my friends or parents. I've often said that if I ever win the lottery, or somehow come in to a ton of money that the very first thing I'd do is buy the building, and bring the Elmdale Theatre back. Every once in a while, there is a whisper or rumour about this occurring, and I get my hopes up. Maybe someday...

So let's step into the history of the Elmdale Theatre.

The land on which the Elmdale sits was originally part of the Hinton farm. The farm was first subdivided in to lots in 1874. Though only a few of these original lots would be sold (from the original subdivision), three of the first to sell were lots C, D, and E on the north side of Wellington, which is much of the street-front between Hinton and Parkdale. James Wilson purchased the trio of lots, and while D and E would be developed a little more quickly, lot C (on which the Elmdale would be built) would remain in the Wilson family for nearly 40 years, and surprisingly remain empty for the entire time.

In 1917, the lot was picked up by Harry P. Hudson, who was a Doctor in Aylmer for 45 years. Hudson also sat on the vacant property for nearly 30 years, before finally selling on January 2nd, 1946, to Reuben Zumar. The sale price on the large lot was $3,500.

Reuben Zumar and his brothers Abe, Charles, Harry and Moe had a long-time dream to build a theatre. The sons of Israel and Cecilia Zumar of Marlborough Street in Ottawa, movie theatres were important to the family. The two oldest brothers had worked for years as projectionists at two of Ottawa's top theatres - Abe with the Capitol Theatre on Bank Street, and Charles with the Rideau Theatre on Rideau. The brothers had pooled their money together with the goal of building a modern theatre. With the outbreak of WWII, the dream was put on hold, and Harry, Reuben and Moe joined the service in 1940. All applied for enlistment at the same time, and were called up within a short period of each other. Harry, the eldest, was a Pilot Officer attached to an R.A.F. air-sea rescue squadron, specializing in flying "searches" for Allied airmen who have been forced down in the seas. He had trained in Ottawa, Brandon, Regina, Lethbridge, Calgary and Charlottetown before being posted overseas in November 1941. Reuben was a sergeant wireless operator-air gunner with an R.A.F. Torpedo Bomber Squadron, trained in Toronto and Montreal, before arriving in England in October of 1941. Moses "Moe" Zumar, was a Warrant Officer, and also a pilot. He was posted to the Demon Squadron of the R.C.A.F., training at Toronto, Verdun, Brandon and Charlottetown before being posted in January of 1942. Sadly, Moe went missing in 1942 and was never found (after Moe was declared missing, his brother Harry "flew two harrowing trips over the Bay of Biscay searching without success" for his brother).

Ottawa Citizen - July 18, 1942

The two boys returned home as war heroes, and immediately set about their original plan to open a theatre. They settled on the lot on Wellington Street in the popular and still-growing suburb of Hintonburg. At the time, the area featured two other movie theatres: the Victoria at Wellington and Huron, which had been built in 1934 (read my history about it at http://kitchissippimuseum.blogspot.ca/2015/01/the-victoria-theatre-wellington.html), and the aging Nola Theatre in Hintonburg, across from the St Francois D'Assise Church, built in 1914.

They purchased the lot on January 2nd, 1946, and the construction permit was issued by the City Building Department on Wednesday February 20th, 1946 (incidentally, just two days after the permit to construct the West Park bowling lanes across the street). The permit allowed for the construction of a two-storey theatre and one or two stores, at an estimated cost of $85,000. The outside dimensions were to be 75 feet, 4 inches x 95 feet x 42 feet, with an initial estimated seating capacity of approximately 1,000. The permit was issued to Zumar Brothers, at 120 Marlborough Avenue, as contractors, and named Kaplan and Sprachman, of Toronto, as architects.

The first sod was turned on April 6th, 1946, and original estimates called for the work to be completed by September 1946. Indeed, it would take a full year longer than that.

Sadly, the work would take seventeen months. The Zumars must have taken on a project that went beyond what they had been expecting. Many delays pushed the project, including a near-fire in February of 1947, where smoke filled the theatre while the builders attempted to dry plaster using a stove. Interestingly, a classified ad selling a Beach stove appeared in the newspaper a week later:

Ottawa Journal - February 3, 1947

Ottawa Journal - February 13, 1947

The theatre was finally complete by early September of 1947, seventeen months after construction had began. Harry Zumar was selected as manager of the theatre, having retired from the RCAF during the winter of 1946-47 as a flight lieutenant with six years service.

The newly completed theatre

The new theatre was trumpeted as a modern marvel. The theatre was stadium-style, with 882 seats all on one floor. Advertisements promoted the following features: "Ultra Modern Projection and Sound, Healthful cool air conditioning, spacious and comfortable seating, appealing decoration, attractive lighting, luxurious carpeting and furnishing, cry room and private party room, lounge, ladies' powder room, candy and refreshment bar."

The air conditioning was described as: "Draft free, the newest type of ceiling diffusers allows clean filtered air to circulate throughout the theatre, eliminating drafts, air-pockets, the air is filtered through the newest designed filters ridding the air of dust, pollen and germs. No danger of 'catching cold' at the Elmdale! Everything is fully automatic, thermostatically controlled - no guesswork. In the summer - cooled by the most modern type of ice-compressors - and in the winter, heated by the newest oil-fired heating plant with constant temperature and humidity equalization, both for cooling and heating"

The technical highlights being: "The Elmdale is equipped with the newest Simplex Four-Star sound and projection system. Outstanding in technical excellence, to bring greater realism in sound reproduction with a better balance of high and low tone range and the distribution of sound throughout the theatre is perfectly uniform irrespective of where you sit, bringing you always the positive illusion of "being present". More light on the screen, with clearer, sharper, black-and-white pictures, and infinitely better and truer projection of color pictures heightening the normal illusion of depth, with new richness and beauty in the film image, allowing no distortion from side seats."

The seats were detailed as: "The newest in stream-lined seating on a scientifically sloped floor to give the utmost in seating comfort. Improved seat backs which mold to the individual body and full floating cushions, upholstered in leatherette. Automatic seat lifts and more passing room between rows with full wide seats, a perfect view of the screen from any seat in the house."

Lighting in the theatre was promoted as: "Interior lighting in the theatre auditorium eliminates all glare, neon cove lighting in pleasing soft tone colours. No eyestrain, no glare to distract from the realism of the film."

The new Cry Room concept was ahead of it's time as well: "First in Ottawa. A private party room for your theatre parties. Tastefully decorated and air-conditioned, with comfortable easy chairs. Specially equipped with its own sound system, also hearing aids for the hard-of-hearing. During matinees this room is available to mothers who wish to bring their infants to the theatre."

The Lounge: "Relax in comfort in our spacious, tastefully decorated lounge, fully air-conditioned. Lovely and most comfortable chairs and chesterfields, pleasing indirect lighting. Note to Ladies' Auxiliaries of local clubs. An ideal spot for your regular weekly meetings, and teas.

The Candy Bar: "A pleasing convenient candy and refreshment bar fully stocked with the best-known brands of confections, ice cream and refreshing drinks with a courteous helpful attendant at your service."

Here is a list of the large number of Contractors involved in its construction:
- Hardy Electric (1302 Wellington Street): all electrical work and light fixtures
- Gerard & Gerard (18 Rideau Street): plastering work
- Harry Hayley (Hurdman's Road): cement products (cinder block and cement products)
- Parfield Oils Limited (McArthur Road): Fess Oil Burner (sold, installed, serviced and fueled)
- United Plumbing & Heating Service (477 St. Patrick St.): plumbing and heating
- Rideau Upholstering Company (424 Rideau St): upholstering
- Alfred Grodde (382 Richmond Road): painting and decorating
- Chas. Burnside (1007 Wellington Street): sand and gravel
- J. R. Douglas (262 Slater Street): Supplied fireproof doors, roof, duct work, shutters and grills
- J. D. Sanderson Company (575 McLeod Street): roofers
- Rainbow Neon Signs (206 Murray Street): Neon Marquee and neon lighting
- Albert Bethell (96 Richmond Road): Foundation
- George W. Ewan & Son: Insurance brokerage
- Lieff Lumber Company (66 Booth Street): millwork supplied by
- DeSpirit Mosaic & Marble (18 Pretoria Avenue): Tile (marble, terrazzo and slate)
- General Theatre Supply Co. Ltd. (Montreal): Simplex Sound and Projection Equipment
- Kaplan and Sprachman (Toronto): Architects
- F. A. McLean & Son (185 James Street): Water Well Drillers
- R & A Cohen (Bank at Laurier): Furniture and appliances
- Twin City Dunbrik Co. (80 McArthur Road): Concrete Brick, Concrete and Cinder Block
- Libby-Long-Aboud Engineering Ltd. (Montreal): Air-conditioning design and installation
- A. J. Freiman Limited: Draperies, curtains, venetian blinds supplied and installed
- John Kay Company Ltd (Toronto): carpets
- Harry Koffman (366 Bank Street): Signs
- Beechwood Machinery Ltd. (10 Beechwood Ave): machinery and tools
- Ottawa Iron Works Ltd. (96 Nelson Street): Ornamental iron, steel stairs, fire escape

Alain Miguelez eloquently describes the theatre's architecture in his book "A Theatre Near You": "The building presented a modern stucco, vitrolite, and galvanized steel exterior. Its minimalist design lines contrasted a sweeping corner curve where the entrance doors were located with a rhythmic sequence of square windows made of square glass blocks on the second floor, and square poster boards at street level. The interior was devoid of the complicated and detailed decorations of prewar cinemas, the entire decor scheme being designed to offer comfort."

Ottawa Citizen - September 6, 1947

Opening night ceremonies for the theatre were held on Monday September 8th, 1947, sponsored by the West Ottawa Business and Professional Men's Association, with all proceeds donated towards equipping and furnishing a room in the new wing of the Grace Hospital. $700 was raised, and donated to Col. C. M. Edwards, DSO, chairman of the advisory council of the Salvation Army. Master of Ceremonies for the evening was well-known local resident and socialite Jack Norris.

Guests on this special evening saw a special "sneak preview" one-night showing of the Arthur Rank-produced film "Carnival", from England, it's first showing in North America (Directed by Stanley Haynes, and starring Sally Gray and Michael Wilding). There was also a stage show put on by the Gatineau Club, and door prizes donated by the businesses of West Ottawa.

The headlines the next morning read "Hundreds Turned Away When Elmdale Theatre Opens Doors", noting that may people were turned away from a house "which was filled long before the program was scheduled to begin." An article added further: "It was a gala opening and the front of the building was ablaze with lights."

Ottawa Journal - September 9, 1947

Opening night for the general public was the following night, Tuesday September 9th, 1947, and featured the movies "To Have and Have Not", based on Ernest Hemingway's novel, starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan and Lauren Bacall, as well as "Mr. Lucky" with Cary Grant and Laraine Day.


Ottawa Journal - September 9, 1947; the first ad for the Elmdale Theatre

Admission prices when the Elmdale first opened were, for matinees: children 15 cents, students 20 cents, and adults 30 cents; and for evening shows: children 15 cents, students 25 cents, and adults 35 cents.

The new theatre building also included one commercial storefront space, facing Wellington at the east end of the building (1194 Wellington Street). This storefront is still there, though nowadays it appears to be some kind of office space. The first occupant was Morley's Fashions, a clothing store. Morley's held also held an early event in the theatre, hosting a fashion show on November 24th and 25th, of 1947.

Ottawa Journal - November 20, 1947

The early years after opening

The theatre had not been open long before suffering it's first break-in. In the early morning hours of Saturday September 13th, 1947, 20-year old Roland Dinelle of Ladouceur Street and 24-year old George Bedard of John Street in Eastview broke in to the theatre and stole $102 in cash. They were captured a few days later with $30 of the cash still on them, and they were held on vagrancy charges, until the break-in could be investigated fully. They were held without bail, until their day in court on October 7th. Bedard plead guilty, and was sentenced to the Ontario reformatory for four months definite plus four months indeterminate. Meanwhile the charge against Dinelle was dismissed. However, he was picked up again less than two months later for breaking in to a home on Smirle Avenue and stealing $75 in shirts and silverware.

September 1947 photo of the Elmdale Theatre (taken within a few weeks of opening)
Source: flickr page by Ross Dunn, though it was sourced I believe from the Alain Miguelez
book "A Theatre Near You", originally Archives of Ontario)

Ottawa Journal - September 27, 1947: advertising the movies shown
in the earliest photo of the theatre above.

Below are two great photos from the inside of the theatre from when it first opened. These photos were dug out of Archives in Toronto by Alain Miguelez, who wrote one of my favorite books, "A Theatre Near You", which chronicles all of Ottawa's old theatres. A must read for everyone, the photos and information are amazing. I've borrowed these two photos from his book below, and am very thankful he was able to unearth them.

Theatre auditorium 1947 (source: "A Theatre Near You" by
Alain Miguelez, page 261; originally Archives of Ontario)

Auditorium facing back towards the rear, 1947 (source: "A Theatre Near You"
by Alain Miguelez, page 261; originally Archives of Ontario)

Shockingly, less than a month after opening, after 17 hard months of work preparing the theatre, the Zumar Brothers announced that they no longer had any association with the Elmdale. They thanked their friends and associates, and the announcement provided no further information.

Notice which appeared in both the Citizen and Journal on October 3, 1947,
announcing that the Zumars no longer were associated with the Elmdale.

According to Miguelez in "A Theatre Near You", the Zumars were presented with an exceptional challenge of access to quality movies. The Odeon ran Hintonburg's Nola, and Twentieth Century had just taken over the Victoria. The territorial rights of distributing companies limited what the Elmdale had access to. This along with what I assume was a difficult, expensive and probably soul-crushing experience of a 17-month construction project, led them to the decision to sell. Their dream was ultimately a success, but it clearly had not worked out as they had hoped. (I attempted to track down a descendant of the Zumar family in researching this article, but was not successful. If anyone from the family reads this and would be willing to get in touch with me, I would love to hear from you).

The show would go on. Alex Betcherman, one of Ottawa's most prominent and well-known Jewish residents and businessmen, had been involved with the Elmdale group from the beginning, and took over ownership of the theatre from the Zumars as an investment. Robert Berezin, formerly with 20th Century Theatres would become the new theatre manager briefly, before Jack Gibson would take over until May of 1949.

Ottawa Journal - November 21, 1947

As a result of the popularity of the theatre, and the natural increased traffic in the area, by January of 1948, parking on Hamilton Avenue became a heated issue for local residents. The city's Traffic Committee decided to allow parking on the east side of Hamilton Avenue south of Wellington, to assist the Elmdale's customers. A couple of angry local residents responded by slashing the tires of cars on Hamilton Avenue on January 12th, including one car who had a tire punctured with an ice pick.

St. Matthias Church constructed their new church during the spring of 1948, and while this was underway, they moved their services to the new Elmdale Theatre. The first service was held on Sunday April 11th, and incidentally set a record for largest attendance for a regular Sunday service. The management of the Elmdale even installed a new lighting system to allow worshippers to read with ease. St. Matthias remained in the Elmdale for eight months, moving back in to the renovated basement of the new church just before Christmas of 1948, the final church being finished in November of 1949.

Ottawa Journal - April 12, 1948

The Theatre was again victim to a break-in, this one far more professional, when on July 20th, 1948, a gang of four serial safe-crackers, including one recent jailbreaker, who had performed several area break-ins over the previous week, broke in to the Elmdale. They broke in via a rear door of the theatre, then climbed a ladder to an air-conditioning duct, making their way to a grille outside the manager's office. They smashed open the door to the office, and took the heavy safe containing $500 to a vehicle waiting in the alley behind. Tire marks belonging to a Chevrolet panel truck was left behind. The truck was later chased by police through LeBreton Flats and over the Chaudiere bridge. The occupants opened fire on police during the chase, which reached speeds of 60 miles per hour on the Hull side. One of the occupants jumped out at the corner of St. Joseph Boulevard and McKenzie while the truck was going at top speed, came to his feet and kept on running. The police arrested the man soon after, but the truck got away. Heavy searching by police continued over the next month, with several sightings of the truck but the police narrowly would miss it each time. The truck was finally found hidden in a shed, having been painted at least three times by hand, and the gang members charged.

The Odeon acquisition

Owner Alex Betcherman did not hold on to the theatre for long. Odeon Theatres Ltd. purchased the theatre from him on November 22nd, 1948. Unfortunately the sale price is not certain, as the sale was officially made for the price of "$10 plus an exchange of lands", however Odeon did take out a mortgage from Betcherman for over $94,000, so imaginably the price of the theatre was well over $100k.

The agreement in place a little earlier in the fall, Odeon shut down their other local cinema, the Nola Theatre in Hintonburg rather suddenly on September 30th, 1948. (The Nola later became a bowling alley, then a store, before being torn down in 1972.) This left a direct competition with 20th Century's Victoria Theatre at Huron, which had been renamed Century Theatre. Elmdale would win this competition, as the Century was shut down in 1955.

The theatre was used for more than just showing movies; there were concerts, stage shows, and live in-person appearances by actors, including the Bowery Boys who made an appearance in 1953 (my Dad was a big fan, and thus I became a big fan watching their movies on Saturday mornings as a kid in the late 1980s; seemed like TVO had one on every Saturday at about 10 am).

December 20, 1949

March 17, 1950

November 22, 1950

January 5, 1953


August 1, 1953

November 5, 1953

In February of 1954, a new wide-vision screen was installed at the Elmdale. The first film to be shown on it was a Russian movie produced in Magicolor, called "Sadko". Notable is that prices by this point had gone up to 75 cents for adults, 25 cents for children (and 30 cents for matinees)

February 8, 1954

The Elmdale was known in the mid-1950s and into the 1960s for its weekly stage shows, talent nights and "amateur nights", put on by Bill Hartnett, and which featured the talents of, among others, Paul Anka and Dick Maloney. I found one comment on Facebook from Simone Pharand, who posted that while a student at Fisher Park, she sang at one Amateur Hour where Anka also performed; he sang "Down by the Riverside" while Simone sang "You belong to Me", but it was a five-year-old girl who won the contest that day, singing "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue, Has Anybody Seen My Gal".

March 5, 1955

By 1955, the Elmdale had vanquished the other neighbourhood theatres, the Victoria and Nola, and even the Westboro Theatre closed in 1955, but the next challenge it needed to overcome was the arrival of home televisions. By the mid-1950s, over a million TVs had been sold in Canada, and by 1959, 90% of homes had one. Attendance at theatres plunged dramatically, and theatre-owners had to come up with unique initiatives to draw people in to moviehouses.

Most theatres, including the Elmdale, began to offer special theme nights, giveaways and contests. The Elmdale developed a regular contest called "Hollywood", in which fairly large cash prizes were given to winners. 16-year old Arleen Fitzgerald of Armstrong Street won the biggest jackpot of $270 in 1957, but a year later, in May of 1958, Odeon Theatres were fined and forced to shut down the contest, as it was judged to be a lottery. The game was apparently similar to bingo. Letters were projected on the screen, and theatre-goers would punch out cards bearing the names of movie stars. Twenty dollars would be added each week to the growing prize if there was no winner.

March 5, 1955

From 1955 until 1977, the Elmdale existed as the only west end theatre, until the Britannia Six opened.


Various logos used in the 1950s and 1960s

Also interesting to note, now behind the theatre is a long parking lot, but until the early 1970s, there was a house here, separated by just a small alleyway, which was 45 Hamilton Avenue north. This was the-long time home of Ottawa Senators legend and hockey hall-of-famer Cy Denneny. Cy died in 1970, and it appears his home was demolished soon after.

Below are a few shots of the exterior of the Elmdale during the golden years of the 1950s and 60s (you can just see a bit of Denneny's house behind the theatre in the top photo).

Elmdale Theatre on June 6, 1956
Currently showing "To Hell and Back" with Audie Murphy, and
"The Tall Men" with Clark Gable and Jane Russell.
(Source: City of Ottawa Archives, CA-38871)

Elmdale Theatre on December 23, 1959
A one-day showing of "Because of You" and "Thunder on the Hill"
(Source: City of Ottawa Archives, AN-A-5353-3)

Elmdale Theatre, June 22, 1962
(Source: City of Ottawa Archives, CA-24804)

The 1965 renovations

In October and November of 1965, the Elmdale Theatre went through renovations, and re-opened as an Art-Film Theatre. The new manager Frank Marinus announced that the theatre would undergo a major $65,000 renovation, and show only "art" films. The newspaper noted "This doesn't mean that the films will be "arty"; only that they are generally not believed to be for mass consumption. With the growth of film clubs in the city, however, it appears that there will be a substantial number of people interested in this new plan".

The renovations saw the Elmdale feature new curtains, new carpets, a new screen, new upholstered seats, a renovated lobby and mezzanine, an updated exterior and a new marquee. The new decor of the theatre was described as "mostly burnt orange, rusts and browns that create a warmly autumnal atmosphere. The wood panels are teak, the walls vinyl in the inner lobby, while the outer lobby is one in ceramic tile." Very 1960s-sounding indeed!

The mezzanine was the most significantly changed, being modified into an art gallery (called the Mezzanine Lounge) specializing in Canadian paintings, with an emphasis on local art. Ottawa artists were invited to exhibit their works without fee. The theme of the lounge was "tangerine, off-white and brown with soft amber ceiling lights to enhance the burlap-textured vinyl walls and floor-to-ceiling drapes. Wall-to-wall carpeting curves upwards to form baseboards, and vertical walnut strips add a decorative touch to the walls." The first artist featured in the lounge was landscape artist Mrs. Janet Thurm. Other local artists later exhibited included Rolland E. Proulx, Robert Ullman, Karp Seeman, James Penman Rae, Brigitta von Dulong, Michael Markham, Gordon Keith, Evelyn Browne Macartney, Barbara Browne Weir, and most notably perhaps, Christina Smith, who hosted an annual show every year into the 1980s.

The Elmdale also introduced a two-week international film festival in 1965, which would kick-off the "new" Elmdale. The first film shown was 'The Knack' from Britain.

Full page ad in the Ottawa Journal - November 3, 1965

A grand opening evening was held on November 3rd, 1965, with many distinguished guests, including representatives from at least 18 embassies and high commissions, as well as much press fanfare.

The theme did not last long. In May of 1966, it was announced that Elmdale was abandoning the "art theatre" concept, and attempting a "road show theatre" theme, whereby the theatre would show movies with a large number of major stars, or that had a high price tag, or another gimmick that would allow it to have higher prices, and advanced reserve seating. The Nelson Theatre in Ottawa had previously been operating this way, and had achieved moderate success with it.

Ticket prices now jumped to $2.00 for all evening, Sunday and holiday shows in the loge (with a $0.25 discount for a seat in the front, or "orchestra" seats), and $1.75 for tickets for matinees in the loge (again with a $0.25 discount for orchestra).

June 11, 1966

The Elmdale also came out with that cool-looking new logo in 1966 (as seen in the ad above).

While they may have abandoned their art theatre shows, the management did maintain their display of art and photo exhibitions in the theatre lounge, which continued well into the 1980s. And they did continue to host foreign film festivals that remained popular for many years. It seems even the "road show" concept was scrapped within a few years, and the theatre continued on showing regular, first-run films.

The Elmdale even teamed up with the Sugar 'N Spice Tavern (where the Desjardins Caisse Populaire now exists), where just over 5 bucks got you a "wonderful" dinner and a movie.

October 13, 1966

In February of 1967, the Elmdale hosted an Ingmar Bergman festival, and ticket prices had risen to as high as $2.50 for evening showings (always at 8:30) and for Sunday and holiday matinees (always at 2:00).

It appears by 1972, the Elmdale began showing some lesser quality films, and on weekends began showing "film classics". in an effort to hit an alternative market.


It took the Elmdale a little while to get it, as it originally opened at the end of May in 1977, but just before Christmas, Star Wars opened at the Elmdale.

December 22, 1977

The 1981 renovations

In September of 1981, with the kids back to school, the Elmdale shut down once again, for a total of six weeks, to renovate once again, and convert into a two-cinema house. The 848-seat cinema became two cinemas of approximately 400 seats each, with a wall down the centre. For the opening of the new theatres, the controversial film "Caligula", starring Malcolm McDowell and Peter O'Toole, premiered at the Elmdale, albeit heavily censored from the version that was shown across the border on the Quebec side. Called a "quasi-historical study of the mad Roman emperor produced by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, has been generally dismissed as pornographic trash by the critics but has attracted crowds of moviegovers curious about the explicit depiction of imperial Rome's sexual depravity". (Ottawa Citizen, October 21, 1981) The 156-minute "New York version", which was shown in only a handful of cities in North America, was shown in Hull, But the Ontario film censoring board cut even more content from the already heavily-edited "British version", so a total of 12 minutes removed.

The double-screen helped Elmdale stay afloat but the 1980s were a difficult time in the movie business, and also to some extent even the neighbourhood. VCRs, expanded home viewing on TV, satellite dishes, new multiplexes with built-in entertainment and high-end sound systems were pushing older stand-alone theatres like Elmdale to the brink. Britannia opened and added a drive-in, and Westgate opened theatres as well. Additionally, the Elmdale dealt with their own problems. The soundproofing between the two theatres was poor, leading to a lot of complaints of sound bleed-through in both theatres. Also the neighbourhood was in transition, and for several years, issues that Hintonburg was facing such as prostitution and drugs affected the neighbourhood streetscape, particularly at night.

In November of 1989, commercials began appearing before movies, and the Elmdale was reported to be the first locally where these were shown. Ads presented before Woody Allen's film "Crimes and Misdemeanors", resulted in some bad press for Odeon, "the chorus of resentment swelled into boos, hisses, catcalls and words of advice for the perpetrators, Cineplex Odeon." One of the ads was for chewing gum, and the company even offered free samples at the door, but many refused to even accept the free gum.

On June 30th, 1988, the theatre was sold by Cineplex Odeon to a group of partners, including real estate developer Michael Dumbrell, lawyer James Hebert, and Harold Levin, president of Bass Clef Entertainments. The Elmdale was rented back to Cineplex Odeon on two-year leases, with one of the terms of the lease being that the owners were not allowed to rent it to another theatre chain. Essentially, Cineplex Odeon was still able to call the shots.


Elmdale Theatre in its final years - June 1991
(Source: City of Ottawa Archives, CA-24334)

The Theatre's final days

In 1991, whispers began about the possibility of the Elmdale being shut down. Cineplex Odeon was opening the new multiplex World Exchange Plaze on July 5th, and were closing down the Phoenix Theatre on Bank Street. The out-dated Elmdale's days were numbered. A news report in late June reported for the first time that the Elmdale would close later in 1991, particularly as the lease was about to run out. The theatre was up for sale, though had no buyers. The Elmdale received a stay of execution, with Cineplex extending the lease again in 1992. It remained open until 1994, when the World Exchange Plaza cinemas expanded from three to seven screens. Cineplex made the decision to shut down Ottawa's final two free-standing cinemas in their chain.

The Elmdale's final night of movies was on August 25th, 1994, with showings of two forgettable movies, "It Could Happen to You" and "Blankman". The Elgin Theatre closed that November as well (the Somerset, Ottawa's final cinema of its kind, closed in 2000 and was demolished in 2004).

On September 19th, 1994, the Elmdale Theatre was sold to the Cornerstone House of Refuge Apostolic Church for $712,000. The church group renovated the theatre and has used the building as their place of worship ever since.


August 2006 view of the Church, with the old Elmdale marquee still in place.
(Source: Jeff Knoll, www.cinematour.com)

I haven't been inside since 1994, but I can still remember the fun hours spent there as a kid, and the huge murals of Charlie Chaplin painted on the wall, which I can only assume are long gone. I'm glad the building has remained, and I'm happy that it is so well used these days, but nothing would make me happier than to see it become a theatre again!

Not surprisingly, the theatre has been the subject of works by two prominent Ottawa artists recently, and I can think of no better way to end this article then by including them here, as an appropriate ode to the classic experience of the neighbourhood theatre that the Elmdale gave to so many of us!


Elmdale Theatre by Andrew King, part of his Tamarack series
(http://www.andrewkingstudio.com/www.andrewkingstudio.com/Tamarack_Paintings.html)

"The Elmdale" by talented artist Dave Rheaume
(www.daverheaume.com/)

1 comment:

  1. Oh the Elmdale... Jaws, an attractive young lady from Junior high - enough said.

    ReplyDelete