Somerset West at Lorne Avenue: Rexy Theatre

Lines on brickwork: traces of the old Rexy Theatre marquee?

A small Vietnamese grocery now occupies the entrance hall to what was once a popular neighbourhood movie house in the heart of Chinatown. It was the last of a series of theatres at Somerset West and Lorne Avenue, in various incarnations known as the Rex Fireproof Theatre, the New Rex, and finally the Rexy.

With the possible exception of one or two large and lavish Chinese restaurants, modern-day Ottawans don’t usually associate the term “opulent” with Somerset West, but in the decades before that main street became Chinatown, the Rex was just that — in its heyday the cinema featured a 750-seat auditorium complete with balcony, Wurlitzer Organ, and six-piece orchestra.

Here’s how A Theatre Near You author Alain Miguelez described the theatre as it was in 1927:

One of the prettiest in the city (with) Spanish-themed decorations inside and a stucco exterior with iron grille details…Ottawa’s first atmospheric theatre, it is said to have inspired the owners of the Mayfair, which opened a year later and still operates.

Interestingly, the auditorium was never actually located on Somerset — it was in a building to the rear; first over a Chinese laundry and then after 1927 in its own rebuilt Lorne Avenue address. The photoset linked to the top image shows how present-day 136 Lorne Avenue is still connected to the Somerset building via a cast-iron beam, though a back alley now separates the two structures.

Sharp-eyed passers-by in Chinatown today can notice the traces left by what appears to be old signage over the central entrance at 777 Somerset West; the lines on the brickwork seem to line up exactly to where the anchor plate for the Rexy marquee would have been bolted.