The Armond Theatre
By Jim Cameron
From Cranbrook’s earliest years, the area of 10th Ave. between Baker and 1st St. served as the city’s ‘Entertainment District’. By the early 1900s, both the Knights of Pythias Hall/Oddfellows Fraternity Hall and the Masonic Lodge (The Studio) were popular spots for local banquets and dances. One could take in a movie at the Edison Theatre on Baker St. at the end of Tenth Ave. followed by dinner at the many restaurants and cafes in the area. The old Cranbrook Auditorium featured live vaudeville and theatre many nights of the week and among the many public houses those of the Canadian (York), the Cosmopolitan (Shananigan’s Pub) and the Royal (Byng) Hotels were practically next door. All of this within one city block. The trend continued for decades with the Rex and Star Theatres added in later years.
In Feb. 1946, a consortium under the title of Cranbrook Theatres Ltd., with Armond Clark Blaine as their managing director, bought the old Auditorium on Tenth Ave. for use as a temporary movie theatre. In early 1950, the company announced the planned replacement of the old Auditorium with a new ‘movie palace’ and one year later the auditorium fell to the wrecking ball with nary a whimper. Blueprints for the new movie theatre, designed by the Vancouver architectural firm of Sharp, Thompson, Berwick and Pratt – an internationally renowned company who also designed many of UBC’s campus buildings - featured reinforced concrete construction with ‘ultra-modern’ plastic doors leading into a handsomely appointed foyer. The main floor boasted ‘saucer-type’ seating, acoustically treated walls, air conditioning and the most up-to-date sound system available. A stadium mezzanine (balcony) was also included. The successful contractor’s bid went to Marwell Construction Co. of Vancouver with work to commence Mar.1 1951, at a cost of approximately $180,000.00.
The grand opening of The Armond - named for Armond Blaine who had passed away in the interim - took place on Mar.19, 1952 with a capacity crowd witnessing the opening ceremonies. The auditorium featured pale green and tan wall panels, green-carpeted aisles, red-upholstered seats and a matching, electrically operated stage curtain The premier movie was ‘An American in Paris’ followed by a large reception at the home of Mrs.A.C.Blaine. Speaking at the opening, Cranbrook’s Mayor Sang commented, ‘This solid and substantial edifice marks the staunch belief that Mrs. Blaine and her associates hold for the future of the sparkling city of Cranbrook, of which we are all so proud. It is our duty as citizens together with the Management to keep the Theatre on that high level which will make it a worthy companion of the home, the school and the Church…may the curtain never descend upon its glory.”
The Armond, following forty-seven years of service to the community, closed its doors in 1999 as patrons gravitated en masse to the newly opened ‘Cinema-plex’ two miles to the north.
This year the Armond celebrates its tenth anniversary as the most desolate building in town with the seats now stripped and sold, the lobby piled high with unused industrial furnishings and the facade (with the grand-daddy of cool neon signs) gradually decaying.
High above the street on the northern exterior wall remains the last hand-painted building advertisement in town, a ‘Pepsi’ sign fading away at approximately the same speed as the memories of the theatre itself. Once a point of civic pride, sadly, the Armond Theatre is now no more than a huge concrete headstone in the very ‘heart and soul’ of our downtown core. To whom does our community credit this abject honour? No one seems to have placed their nameplate on the door.
So now, let us review what we actually have here: A classic 1950s vacant movie theatre in the centre of downtown, perfect for a major role in a revitalized downtown core, designed by famous architects and constructed on the very site of our city’s oldest original vaudeville/theatre house, sitting idle for ten years. What is the conclusion? Hey, here’s an idea, why don’t we have a little peek in our history book and see what we’ve done with our other historic buildings…now let me see here… hmm…Golly, maybe we should have a peek in someone else’s history book instead. Just what was that silly old Mayor Sang thinking anyway?
NOTE: The blue neon ‘MacDonalds’ Rexall Drugs’ clock hung in the Armond Theatre for many years. Mounted directly to the left of the screen, it became an added prop in thousands of movies. It now resides in a stairwell at Finnegans Wake Sports Pub & Grill in Cranbrook