Description of Historic Place
The Imperial Theatre is a four-storey brick and concrete Neo-Classical Revival building with a large segmented arch in the center of the front façade. It is located on King Square South, within the Trinity Royal Preservation Area of the City of Saint John.
The Imperial Theatre is designated a Local Historic Place for its architecture and for its significant and long standing contribution to the entertainment industry of the City of Saint John.
The Imperial Theatre is recognized for being a good example of Neo-Classical theatre architecture from the early 20th century. Designed by the Philadelphia architect Albert Westover, this theatre was constructed between 1912 and 1913 for the Keith Albee Company and its Canadian subsidiary, the Saint John Amusements Company, Ltd. The Neo-Classical style is evident in such details as the monumental massing, the elaborate classical entablature on the upper storey and the three-storey segmented arch in the centre of the front entrance. The interior décor is also significant. Plaster workers from Philadelphia and professional marble workers from Italy were enlisted in the project. English porcelain and electrical fixtures, designed from the Arts and Crafts shops of Cassidy, New York, were put in place.
The Imperial Theatre is also recognized for being one of the most enduring and prominent theatres of Saint John. Theatres such as the Imperial Theatre played a considerable role in responding to the growing demands of the entertainment and tourism industry in the early half of the 20th century. The Imperial Theatre was built on the site of the Dramatic Lyceum with hopes of revitalizing theatre in the city. The official opening occurred on Friday, September 19, 1913 with a gala performance by several well-known Saint John actors.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the theatre was rapidly converted to the center of recruiting and fundraising for the war effort in Saint John. It ran a major deficit each year, and failed to completely recover economically following 1919.
In 1929, Famous Players purchased the theatre. Changing the name to the “Capitol”, it was converted to a movie house. The building’s history as a center for theatre and dramatics waned for the next 60 years until 1984 when Jack McDougall and Susan Bate purchased the building for a dollar, with a commitment to raise the million dollar balance within a year. A major community fund raising effort commenced as a result. Under the supervision of architect Douglas Kochel, the Imperial Theatre was eventually restored after a $11.3 million dollar reconstruction project. The theatre officially reopened in May of 1994. The Imperial Theatre continues to play a major role as a prominent entertainment center of the city to the present day.
Source: Department of Planning and Development - City of Saint John
The character defining elements that describe the Neo-Classical architecture of the Imperial Theatre include:
- monumental rectangular four-storey massing;
- brick and concrete exterior walls;
- four-and-a-half foot letters spelling “IMPERIAL”;
- elaborate entablature comprising the entire upper storey of the front façade, including a stone cornice with modillions and stylistic masonry;
- rectangular vertical sliding wood windows with classical sills and entablatures;
- pronounced keystones along the second storey windows;
- stone quoins;
- Doric style pilasters along corners on the first storey of front façade;
- elaborate three-storey segmented arch in center of the front façade with a pronounced keystone, engaged columns and a tympanum that includes windows, projecting and recessed panels, and other decorative masonry;
- stylized marquee over three paired wood doors with glass panels and transom windows;
- storefront windows below elaborate stone fascias and cornices;
- original interior features such as the plaster, marble, porcelain and electrical fixtures.