It’s been more than seven years since Spacing Ottawa contributor Alain Miguelez published his much-esteemed book on the history of theatres in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, “A Theatre Near You”. The lavish 370-page volume, thick with archival photos, was a labour of love that joined up two parts of Miguelez; the inner child who never forgot the thrill of a Saturday afternoon matinée, and the urbanist the boy grew up to be — a writer who laments the damage done to our civic culture by the closures of the grand “picture palaces” and their cousins, the neighbourhood theatres that were once found on every main street.
The book has been a treasure-trove for Ottawans curious to know more of the social history of their city, including writer and intern architect Chris Warden in these pages, but I am embarrassed to admit that it is only recently that I finally acquired my own copy.
I’ve been constantly dipping into the book every day since getting my hands on it, and in the three weeks since it became a fixture on my coffee table it seems that wherever I travel in the city, I am reminded of some nugget of neighbourhood history gleaned from its pages.
A few days ago I was meeting someone for coffee in the Glebe, and as I looked up from locking my bike I saw the name of a business across the street; again there was that sense of being reminded of something I had recently read. I snapped a picture of the storefront, and sure enough later that evening I found the reference in the pages of Alain’s book.
Here’s what Miguelez says about the fate of the Avalon Theatre, opened in 1928, but by the time of its closing known as the Odeon Glebe:
The last movie was shown at the former Avalon on October 17, 1956. The buiding was then stripped of its grillwork, marquee, and ornate design and the interior was completely gutted. A car dealership, Landsdowne Motors, operated there until 1974.
If you walk down Bank Street in the Glebe today and pause at the corner of Second Avenue, you’ll be able to see what remains of the Avalon. The stucco-covered building is still there, with the large auditorium structure looming behind the façade. What is now Feleena’s Restaurant was the ticket lobby. The auditorium space is now occupied by Home Hardware. Very few people today, however, could tell you that this was once a movie theatre.
I suspect Miguelez is right; I know I had never heard about the Avalon, even from long-time Glebe residents.
I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more evidence of Ottawa’s lost theatres; if I manage to capture visual artifacts I’ll post them in this space.