Description of Historic Place
The Walker Theatre, a grand live performance venue built in 1906, dominates a triangle of land surrounded by high-traffic streets, commercial buildings, surface parking lots and a small park in downtown Winnipeg. The structure has two parts - a stone-clad entrance and office section joined at a right angle to the northeast corner of a large brick auditorium. The City of Winnipeg's designation applies to the building on its footprint and the entire interior.
The Walker Theatre, the oldest of Winnipeg's three extant grand theatres from the pre-1920 era, is valued for the scope and integrity of its classically inspired entrance section, designed by Montreal architect Howard C. Stone, and its fireproof steel and concrete construction, a first in Canada for structures of its type. Built for impresario Corliss Powers Walker and his wife, Harriet, the theatre also is valued for its opulent interior, rare vaulted auditorium ceiling, upper-gallery bench seating and other functional features that enabled it to showcase high-quality touring productions, as well as nurture local talent. This venue had an important early role in the development of live theatre in Western Canada, a role it has resumed since its restoration in the 1990s. Originally designed as a hotel and theatre complex, only two components of the theatre were built, recalling the occasionally difficult circumstances that attended major construction projects of the period.
Source: City of Winnipeg City Council Meeting, February 18, 1991
Key elements of the integrity of the Walker Theatre's exterior include:
- the unusual form consisting of a highly detailed three-storey entrance/office section attached to the four-storey brick auditorium
- the stone-clad entrance section, including the arched opening, elaborate keystone in the design of a grotesque, modillioned cornice between the second and third floors, the decorative stone surrounds of the middle third-floor opening, framed by blind windows with garlands, and the smaller cornice on top
- the brick auditorium section, including its uninterrupted north and west elevations, minimal fenestration on the east side and numerous exits at various levels on the west elevation
Key elements of the integrity of the theatre's magnificent interior include:
- the comfortable and well-appointed lounge areas on the main floor, including a large fireplace and decorative mouldings, the less ornate second-floor lounge and the simple third-floor waiting area
- the volume and layout of the column-free auditorium space, including the large stage area, side loges, three-section main-floor seating and two balconies
- the lavish ornamentation of the auditorium, including plaster embellishments around the balconies and loges, painted decorations on the upper walls and the proscenium arch enhanced with ornamental plasterwork, rosetted lights, a triple frieze of maple leaves and a wreathed monogram of the theatre framed by paintings of allegorical figures
Key elements of the integrity of the theatre's interior functional features include:
- the rare, completely vaulted ceiling, where the curve of the proscenium arch/sounding board is repeated in bands to the rear of the auditorium to enhance the acoustics
- the cantilevered and steeply sloped balconies designed with no view-obstructing posts or pillars
- the only example in a Canadian theatre of `Gods' seating ' pew-like wooden benches in the top balcony for less affluent audience members, accessed by a separate staircase bypassing the main-floor lounge and first balcony
- the deep stage and wing area, including the 21.4-metre-high fly tower and three-storey dressing room, property room and scenery dock sections
- the basement areas, including storage and waiting space under the stage, etc.
Existing elements of the theatre's safety features include:
- the fireproof superstructure, including the steel and concrete framework, clay brick walls, terra cotta panels, concrete floors, tile-clad walls in the basement, metal doors, slate-covered metal stairs, etc.
- the protective features in the stage area, such as roof vents, surrounding brick walls and richly painted asbestos fire curtain
- extensive system of fire escapes on the rear elevation
Key elements that define the building's unfulfilled building program include:
- the distinct contrast between the exquisitely composed and detailed entrance/office section and the massive unadorned form and plain brick exterior walls of the auditorium