Exploring Ottawa’s Hidden 1,200 Seat Theatre
With the closure of the World Exchange Plaza Cinemas, Ottawa says farewell to its last downtown movie theatre. There once was a time when there was a theatre on almost every downtown street corner, but that era has come to an end, with all first run movie theatres now being relegated to the outskirts of the city in large megaplex cinemas.
The majority of these old theatres have been torn down, replaced by more lucrative office and retail space. The cinemas of the past are but a distant memory, with all traces being eradicated from the downtown core. A few remain as second-run theatres, such as the well preserved and vibrant Bytowne and Mayfair theatres, and the converted Imperial Theatre which is now Barrymore’s night club.
There is however another theatre that remains intact, sitting vacant and abandoned for almost 20 years, concealed from view behind a facade of government offices. This dormant 1,200 seat theatre remains one of the largest theatre spaces in the city. It is the former Place De Ville Theatre located at 300 Sparks St.
The Place Of The City
Opened by Famous Players on April 1, 1971 the Place de Ville Cinema was one of the few piggy-back cinemas in Canada. It was part of an ambitious plan by developer Robert Campeau to regenerate the downtown core with a massive shopping, retail and office district utilizing the most modern of 1970s amenities. For almost a century the area had been home to the city’s streetcar garages, but with their removal from Ottawa streets in 1959, the land was purchased by Robert Campeau. He constructed towers on the site named “ A, B, and C, and the ‘Podium’ building, two large hotels, the Ottawa Delta City Centre (411 rooms) and Ottawa Marriott Hotel (487 rooms) as well as the city’s largest underground parking garage with space for 974 cars. Within this complex was also constructed the Place De Ville cinema.
The theatre space was hidden from view and surrounded by office space in the “Podium” building, a 4 story building between the Mariott hotel and Lyon Street.
It was essentially a giant concrete box in the middle of the Podium building, encased with offices around it. Two cinemas were stacked on top of one another, with a massive lobby and escalators to take customers from one level to another. The lobby included a giant mural of the grand old Capitol Theatre that was demolished in 1970. Lush carpeting and the latest in cinema technology was incorporated into the new Place De Ville cinemas. A special elevator was installed for the projectionist to travel from one cinema to the other. Cinema 1 boasted 751 seats and Cinema 2 had 437 seats for a total of 1,228 seats.
With just the one cinema at 751 seats, this makes the Place De Ville the largest still standing single theatre space downtown. For comparison, the Bytowne has 650 seats, Mayfair – 325 seats.
After its grand opening on April 1 1971 with “Little Big Man” and “Love and Other Strangers” the Place De Ville cinema operated until 1996 when it closed its doors on March 18 with “Mr Holland’s Opus” and “Muppet Treasure Island”.
With 25 years of operation that theatre saw some notable figures pass through its doors, including former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who lined up to see The Godfather there in 1972. Singer Tom Jones once rented the entire theatre to himself to also watch The Godfather when he was performing in Ottawa.
Shuttering its doors in 1996, the theatre was left abandoned, sealed up inside the Podium building behind a shield of government offices, left dormant, and still remains that way to this day.
FINDING THE THEATRE TODAY
Even when it was open, the Place De Ville theatre was hard to find, hidden within the Podium building, so finding it today proved even more difficult but it is in fact still there.
Follow the photo exploration below to learn more about the theatre as it looks today….
Place De Ville was sold by Campeau to various companies and is currently owned by Brookfield Properties. Plans have been filed with the City of Ottawa to replace the 4 story ‘Podium’ building that contains the old theatre with a 19 floor office tower. This new development connects with the construction of Ottawa’s Confederation Line which will have a subway station at Place de Ville. The fate of this once “modern” downtown theatre has yet to be decided but it seems that its days as the largest downtown theatre space are numbered.
Since this post was published a special photo tour was arranged through CBC and Brookfield properties. You can view a collection of photos from this exclusive tour of the interior of the theatre at: http://www.cbc.ca/m/news/#!/content/1.2511978