Description of Historic Place
The Rialto Theatre National Historic Site of Canada, located on du Parc Avenue in Montréal’s Outremont neighbourhood, is an early 20th-century movie theatre designed in the Beaux-Arts style. Distinguished by its monumental columned façade, and inspired by the Paris Opéra, the five-storey theatre also features a richly decorated neo-Baroque interior, designed by the famed theatre designer, Emmanuel Briffa. Official recognition consists of the building on the legal property on which it sat at the time of recognition.
The Rialto Theatre was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1993 because:
- it occupies a unique place in the history of Canadian theatre architecture by virtue of its façade modelled on the Paris Opera and its rich Baroque interior decor.
The Rialto Theatre is typical of Canadian public architecture of the early 20th century and is a fine example of the Beaux-Arts principles of symmetry, monumentality, smooth surfaces and rational, ordered planning. The Rialto is distinguished from contemporary cinemas by its main façade, imitating the decorative programme of the Beaux-Arts style Paris Opéra, and its interior plan created for a variety of functions. It was the first Montréal cinema to place the axis of the auditorium parallel to the façade; and the first to provide rooms intended for other functions (the dance hall, skittles and billiards rooms, and roof garden). Features associated with traditional theatres from the turn of the century include its rich interior décor, the steep pitch of its balcony and the use of theatre boxes.
The Rialto Theatre was built for the United Amusements Corporation Limited to plans by Raoul Gariépy, a prolific local architect responsible for the design of five other Montréal cinemas. While the engineering firm of Forgues and Guay designed the concrete structure, the rich, Baroque-inspired interior décor was designed and executed by Emmanuel Briffa, a Montréal artist responsible for over 200 cinema interiors across North America. The interior is of exceptional quality and preserves many original features, including paintings, mouldings, plaster relief work, and artificially illuminated panels.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1993; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 1997.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its location on du Parc Avenue, in a commercial and residential area of Montréal;
- its large, five-storey massing;
- its Beaux-Arts design, evident in: the symmetry, monumentality, and smooth surfaces of its exterior façade; the rationality of its interior plan; and the use of various decorative features common to Beaux-Arts-style buildings including cartouches, balustrades, columns, and pilasters;
- its Beaux-Arts-style façade, that imitates the formal decorative program of the Paris Opera, evident in: the form and arrangement of its seven bays; the division into three horizontal levels; and the rhythm of columns on its main level;
- artificial stone facing from Canadian Benedict Stone Limited of Montréal;
- its interior plan, consisting of a basement level containing rooms for billiards and skittles; a street level containing a series of small shops, flanked on the left (north) side by the main auditorium entrance and on the right (south) side by an entrance to upper floors; a third level lit by large rectangular windows, containing a former dance hall; a fourth level lit by oculi windows containing rooms for offices; and a fifth level with space for a roof garden; and a two-level auditorium block placed behind;
- the auditorium volume, comprised of a gently sloping, ground-floor level and a steeply sloping, balcony level with a curved front;
- the proscenium and side boxes that constitute a legacy from traditional theatres;
- the circulation pattern from the north entrance, through the lobby and foyer to the side entrance of the main auditorium, and via foyer stairs to the balcony; and up the stairs from the south entrance;
- the rich, Baroque-inspired interior décor of its main auditorium, including: highly ornamented, coffered ceilings; painted wall murals; sculpted plaster reliefs; ornamented mouldings; artificially illuminated, circular glass panels; a large, artificially illuminated, glass skylight; pilasters; and the proscenium arch;
- surviving interior detailing in the lobby and foyer, including: diamond-paned, leaded-glass transoms over arched window and door openings; varnished-wood door frames with pilasters and entablatures, decorated with garlands and diamond motifs; plaster ceiling reliefs; and marble dados;
- surviving interior detailing on the ceilings of the ground-floor shops that echoes the building’s decorative program, including diamond-shaped tracery and mouldings;
- surviving original operating features, including: the cinema screen, the asbestos curtain with its operating mechanism; the sound system; and the projecting booth at the back of the balcony.