Ottawa’s Abandoned 1,200 Seat Downtown Movie Theatre

Map showing the location of the concealed 1,200 seat movie theatre in downtown Ottawa.

Map showing the location of the concealed 1,200 seat movie theatre in downtown Ottawa.

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 theatre's marquee sign on its last day March 18 1996.

The theatre’s marquee sign on its last day March 18 1996.

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.

 CONSTRUCTION

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.

The Podium building today as seen from Queen Street. The abandoned theatre is in the centre of the building surrounded by the offices.

The Podium building today as seen from Queen Street. The abandoned theatre is in the centre of the building surrounded by the offices.

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.

quick sketch showing how the theatre sits inside the Podium buildings, shielded by an exterior shell of government offices.

Quick sketch showing how the theatre sits inside the Podium buildings, shielded by an exterior shell of government offices.

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.

HISTORY

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”.

Newspaper ad for the grand opening of the new Place De Ville Cinema April 1 1971.

Newspaper ad for the grand opening of the new Place De Ville Cinema April 1 1971.

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.

Both Trudeau and Tom Jones graced the theatre with their presence to watch "The Godfather" when it opened in theatres in 1972.

Both Trudeau and Tom Jones graced the theatre with their presence to watch “The Godfather” when it opened in 1972.

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….

The very hidden main entrance to the theatre...I wonder why they made it so unbelievable hard to spot from the main street?

The very hidden main entrance to the theatre…I wonder why they made it so unbelievable hard to spot from the main street?

View of the main entrance to the theatre from Sparks Street. A typically bland, emotionless, devoid of any style entry that was prevalent during early 1970s buildings.

View of the main entrance to the theatre from Sparks Street. A typically bland, emotionless, devoid of any style entry that was prevalent during early 1970s buildings.

The original main entrance to the Place De Ville theatre. Now boarded up, these doors lead to the main lobby area and escalators to the second level cinema.

The original main entrance to the Place De Ville theatre. Now boarded up, these doors lead to the main lobby area and escalators to the second level cinema.

Abandoned theatre lobby area, stairs into the theatre shown. Main entrance doors would have been to the left, around the corner. Escalators to second level cinema to the right (offscreen).

Abandoned theatre lobby area, stairs into the theatre shown. Main entrance doors would have been to the left, around the corner. Escalators to second level cinema to the right (offscreen). (The theatre was up the stairs but I did not go in but I did see the vast theatre space from the doorway)

Theatre lobby area, then & now....Patrons enter the theatre on opening day (right) up the stairs that are shown in the present day photo (left).

Theatre lobby area, then & now….Patrons enter the theatre on opening day (right) up the stairs that are shown in the present day photo (left).

Abandoned theatre lobby, escalators to second level cinema. Mural of Capitol Theatre seems to have been removed.

Abandoned theatre lobby, escalators to second level cinema. Mural of Capitol Theatre seems to have been removed. (apologies for poor picture quality, a zoomed iphone photo taken from doorway)

The Podium building's exit stairwells from the theatre to street level.

The Podium building’s theatre exit stairwell to street level.

Rear of the Podium building showing the emergency exits from the theatre.

Rear of the Podium building showing the emergency exits from the theatre.

Rear view of Podium Building. A popular architectural style of the early 1970s era was poured, ribbed, rough concrete, identical to the construction technique of the NAC built in the same year.

Rear view of Podium Building. A popular architectural style of the early 1970s era was poured, ribbed, rough concrete, identical to the construction technique of the NAC built in the same year.

Theatre’s Future

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.

UPDATE

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

SOURCES

http://spacing.ca/ottawa/2010/02/12/where-in-ottawa-a-cinema-stripped-bare/

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/20373

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_de_Ville

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14 comments

  1. A friend sent me a note after reading this post… he’d like to remain anonymous but says:

    “They have been holding parties in those theatres for many years. No theatre chairs left or screens. I’ve walked through many times. We snuck around up and down to see what it was all about. The escalator and elevator don’t work because they haven’t been inspected in years. It’s a really neat place. Kinda eery.”

  2. Since there are no more movie theaters running downtown except for the Bytowne, can you not renovate this movie theater and reopen it again. I think that you should leave at least one movie theater opened downtown. It is a nuisance to have to take the bus to see a movie at Silvercity or South Keys.

  3. According to me, they should fix the escalators and the elevators and renovate the movie theaters.. There is no movie theater left downtown and that is not good for people who live downtown. We need one first run movie theater downtown. They can install new seats and put new screens and make it look like it is new.

    Silvia Logan

    1. Where do you have your breakfast in the Podium building? I know that there is an Italian restaurant and a printing shop. There are offices in that building. Do you work in that particular building? Do they use those empty movie theaters for something? I remember that 3 years ago they used the empty theater space for a Titanic exhibition.

      Silvia Logan
      silvlogan@gmail.com

      1. I work around the corner, but there is a basement food court with a place called Manhattan’s (there are several downtown). I think the offices are Transport Canada, but I’m not totally sure.

        Anyway, I don’t go there everyday, so I haven’t had a chance to look for it yet, but soon… :)

  4. It’s really a shame that you made it all the way to the lobby and didn’t take any photos of the actual screening room. I scrolled through the pictures excited to see that and was really disappointed. Why on earth would you go on this trek and not take those photos?

  5. I walked by the Place de ville podium building this morning. The doors are still sealed off. The print shop looked closed and so did the Italian restaurant. However, I saw chair on top of the table in the restaurant and printing supplies at the Place de Ville podium building. I saw that the lights were turned off in the office buildings. I still saw Brookfield owning that building. Are they still going to demolish this buidling and construct a 19 storey office tower? How did Mr. Andrew King get in and take photos of the interior of the old cinemas?

  6. I remember seeing a great number of movies at PdV, starting in the early-80s, with a screening of the animated Peter Pan and I think ending with Pulp Fiction and/or Natural Born Killers in the mid-90s. It’s been almost twenty years since I left Ottawa and it seems a real shame that all the downtown first-run cinemas have closed… I also frequented a tonne of movies at WEP and have fond memories of my teenage years with friends there.

    Someone should buy and re-open PdV – there’s no reason that a building like this should sit vacant for that long…

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