“Where in Ottawa?”: a cinema, stripped bare

Popcorn and a Prime Minister: the old home of Place de Ville cinema

Popcorn and a Prime Minister: the old home of Place de Ville cinema

The answer to last week’s quiz is the Podium Building at Place de Ville. It seems it was a tough one; we had no right answers.

Place de Ville was once home to the Place de Ville Cinemas operated by Famous Players. The theatre opened in 1971 and closed in 1996. It opened as one of the replacements for the Capitol Theatre, which once graced the corner of Bank and Queen, a short distance away.

The old cinemas are  hidden behind office space which now encircles them. This allows the offices access to the natural light provided by the windows, while the cinemas are encased, an arrangement which reduces their perceived bulk.  The Place de Ville Cinema is unique in the city as the cinemas are piggy-backed. Cinema II accessed from the ground floor had 437 seats and Cinema I had 751 seats. The primary feature of the multi-story foyer was a mural of images of the old Capitol Theatre which rose up next to the multi-level escalator.

While it is fun to reminisce about theatres of past eras, this multiplex is a special one; even Pierre Trudeau occasionally took time out to see a film here.  I was given the chance to see what was left of the cinema in 2005, and  whatever wasn’t a permanent element was already long gone: seats, screens, speakers, projectors, and even the carpets and the snack bars had been removed. Remaining were the mural featuring the old Capitol, the multi-level escalator, the bones of the theatre boxes and the physical space that once had been the Place de Ville cinemas. The cinema is an integral part of the structure of the little Podium Building, meaning that the space really can’t be anything except a theatre, of some kind, which is why the bones remain fourteen years after it showed its last movie. In 2005, there was talk that a chain was considering splitting up the theatres into six screens and using it as a second run theatre. I am guessing that this would have been Rainbow Cinemas, which eventually opened up in Cineplex Odeon’s former St. Laurent Cinemas.

So as far as I know, the space still  it remains, waiting for a rebirth. I have always hoped that the National Film Board would take an interest in the cinema given the proximity of the Podium Building to the National Library and Archives. I doubt if a mainstream theatre would consider ever showing first-run films again there, especially given the heavy consolidation that exists in the industry today. It is really a shame since there is potential, it even contains Ottawa’s largest cinema at 700 plus seats. For those who are interested in finding out more about Place de Ville cinemas or other cinemas in Ottawa, check out Alain Miguelez’s book “A Theatre Near You”, it it is the definitive source of information on Ottawa’s cinemas, and was consulted during the writing of this article.

2 comments

  1. Now…how do we get the movie theatre reactivated as such?

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