Description of Historic Place
The Palace Theatre National Historic Site of Canada is an early-20th-century movie theatre located in the heart of the business district of Calgary, Alberta. One of only four movie “palaces” still standing in western Canada, the theatre is distinguished by its large scale and its elegant exterior façade with neoclassical detailing. Set within the historic Stephen Avenue Mall, this theatre demonstrates the varied culture and history of Calgary. Official recognition refers to the legal property at the time of designation in 1996.
The Palace Theatre was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1996 because:
- it was designed by the internationally renowned theatre architect Howard C. Crane;
- it is an excellent and rare surviving example of the once thriving Allen Chain of cinemas - pioneers of film distribution in Canada;
- since its construction in 1921, the Palace has played an important role in the cultural life of Calgary;
- to a new and increasingly-large radio audience in the mid-1920s, the Palace was known as the original home of William "Bible Bill" Aberhart's popular religious broadcasts.
The Palace Theatre is one of three surviving Canadian examples of architect Howard C. Crane’s work, and is a good example of an early phase of his international work. It typifies the Canadian cinemas designed by Crane for the Allen theatre chain. Classical details of the elegant exterior façade and luxurious interior are characteristic of Crane’s palace theatres, although each theatre exhibits unique variations, such as the Palace Theatre’s pedimented rectangular windows and added lounge space inside.
The Palace Theatre is one of four surviving movie theatres in Canada built by the Allen brothers, Jay and Jule, and their father Bernard. During the early 20th century, the Allen family ran the biggest cinema chain in Canada, one of the largest in the world. One of the last theatres to be built by the Allen family in Canada, the Palace Theatre represents the impact of the Allen cinema chain on Canadian life and its contribution to the Canadian film industry. By promoting movies and movie going, and by erecting large, opulent movie palaces across the country, the Allen family helped to elevate movies to a form of reputable, accessible and affordable entertainment.
The Palace Theatre fulfilled an important role in the cultural life of Calgary by providing an elegant setting for a wide variety of films and live entertainment. The Allens’ were strong promoters of Canadian content and provided a venue for artists to share their talent, which included being the first home of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Typical of other movie palaces of the day, its early programs were varied, and included organ recitals, orchestral selections and even variety shows.
The Palace is historically associated with early radio in Alberta, and was the original home of William “Bible Bill” Aberhart’s radiobroadcasts on religious themes, recorded with a live audience. Beginning in 1925, Aberhart used the broadcasts to disseminate his religious and political ideas, leading to the founding of the Social Credit party, and to Aberhart’s election as Alberta premier (1935-1943).
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1996.
The key elements that relate to the heritage value of this site include:
- its location in the heart of the business district of Calgary, Alberta;
- its setting in the historic Stephen Avenue Mall;
- its elaborate exterior façade, typical of Crane-designed and Allen-owned theatres, including: a row of five large, round-headed openings at the second-storey level flanked by pedimented rectangular windows with circular stone insets above;
- the classical detailing of the window surrounds with wrought-iron, faux balconies at the windows;
- a prominent cornice and parapet above dark brick walls with light-coloured carved stone pilasters and panels; and shop fronts flanking a central entrance at street level;
- its multi-functional interior plan, with a ticket lobby, entrance foyer and auditorium on the ground-floor level and three lounge areas and balcony on the mezzanine level as well as an orchestra pit, a gentleman’s smoking room as well as a “Ladies Retiring Room”;
- typical Adamesque classical details used by Crane, including: a rectangular proscenium arch; a flat ceiling decorated with circular and sunburst plaster relief; sidewalls that angle in toward the stage and are decorated with shallow plaster pilasters, cornice mouldings and wall panels; moulded plaster relief decorating the balcony;
- surviving original interior materials, including: plaster relief ceilings and walls; mahogany doors and dados in the foyer; curved marble stairs from the foyer to the balcony lounge; and brass light fixtures;
- the open volume of the auditorium, with seating for more than 1900.