Description of Historic Place
The Pantages Playhouse Theatre is a two-storey brick and reinforced concrete structure built in 1913-14 in downtown Winnipeg and extended west through a modern addition to occupy a prime Main Street corner. The provincial designation applies to the 1913-14 theatre and the lots on which it stands.
The magnificent Pantages Playhouse Theatre is among the best of the vaudeville houses built in Canada between 1913 and 1920 and the first large concrete theatre in North America. Designed by B. Marcus Priteca of Seattle, Washington, for a flamboyant entrepreneur, Alexander Pantages, the structure reflects the period prestige of its chain, once the largest independently owned circuit of motion picture and vaudeville houses in the United States, and of Winnipeg, an enterprising western metropolis burgeoning with wealth. Outside and within, the theatre is a skilful display of the signature `Greek Pantages' style of Classical Revival architecture. Especially noteworthy is the lush interior with its rich finishes and details and good sightlines, acoustics and circulation patterns. Little of the main facade, lobby and auditorium has been altered and, with the contemporary expansion of various functional spaces, the theatre continues to be a vital live performance venue situated within a cluster of major entertainment facilities in the Exchange District National Historic Site of Canada.
Source: Manitoba Heritage Council Meeting Minutes, December 6, 2003
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Pantages Playhouse Theatre site include:
- the prominent Exchange District location on the south side of Market Avenue, just east of Main Street, in close proximity to City Hall, hotels and businesses
- the building's placement on the entire property, stretching south from the front public sidewalk
Key exterior elements that define the theatre's specialized Classical Revival (Greek Pantages) style include:
- the rectangular box-shaped form, two storeys high at the front and rising in stages toward the rear, constructed of brick and reinforced concrete and enclosed by mostly flat roofs
- the dignified front, symmetrically composed of a shallow central pavilion with small wings, and divided into two horizontal bands, with the second storey clad in cream-coloured terra cotta and light buff brick and the street level clad with the same brick and smooth-cut limestone for the foundation
- the metal marquee stretching across the front, including a central arch and keystone over the main doors
- the second storey's five large windows set in terra cotta surrounds and panels, including three middle openings framed by engaged columns
- the complete entablature, including a modillioned metal cornice, with terra cotta panels that display the name 'PANTAGES' between the words 'UNEQUALLED' and 'VAUDEVILLE'
- the main-floor openings, including slightly recessed, double entrance doors with transom windows, etc.
- the plain massing of the east, west and south elevations in brick and concrete and with minimal openings
Key elements that define the theatre's lavish yet functional interior include:
- the grand volume of the public spaces, including the high, domed lobby ceiling and tall auditorium walls stretching up to a deep cove ceiling
- the efficient circulation features, including doorways into the auditorium along the south lobby wall, the corridors and staircases to the loges, mezzanine and balcony, etc.
- the finely appointed lobby with sloped terrazzo flooring, marble wainscotting, pilasters, a richly ornamented plaster ceiling, marble staircases, torch lights, etc.
- the large auditorium with a sloped floor, stage, small, shallow orchestra pit and generous seating, including four main-floor and three upper loges and a steeply raked and curved balcony, etc.
- the grand proscenium with two massive engaged Ionic columns framing an elaborately decorated square-headed arch with inset lighting and an oversized torch-bearing cartouche
- the sumptuous, classically inspired and over-scale decorative elements executed in ornamental plasterwork, gold and silver leaf, and ivory, gold and green paint, most profuse in the auditorium
- other fine finishes and furnishings, including decorative ventilation grilles, wood window and door surrounds, wood handrails, metal balustrades, etc.
- functional features such as the acoustic balcony (with a cove ceiling to prevent noise from reaching the auditorium stage), the stage's trap door and sophisticated system of ropes, levers, weights and counter-weights for moving scenery, the orchestra pit staircases under the stage, the basement dressing rooms, the second-storey rental offices with separate exterior access, etc.