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Monarch Theatre

Medicine Hat

Other Names:

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Monarch Theatre is a two-storey Streamline Moderne-style building located in Medicine Hat's historic commercial downtown. Connected to buildings of similar scale and vintage, the Monarch Theatre is distinctive for its boxed massing, smooth stucco surfaces, and vertical towers flanking a recessed entry. The front facade possesses speed lines extending the width of the theatre. The entry to the theatre comprises the west structural bay and the adjacent building to the east forms the east structural bay. The latter features a crenelated parapet and reeded glass block window. The west structural bay is dominated by a distinctive steel marquee with "Monarch" sign lettering and vertical box "Monarch" sign installed on the east vertical tower.

Heritage Value
The Monarch Theatre is highly valued as the pre-eminent social and entertainment hub and the oldest continuously running purpose-built movie theatre in Medicine Hat. Built in 1911 as a motion picture theatre and amusement house, the first of its kind in Medicine Hat and Canada, the theatre featured a movie auditorium in the west structural bay with a pool and billiards room and tobacco shop in the east structural bay. The amusement house and theatre was first owned by the partnership of William B. Finlay (1883-1957) and Thomas V. Ready (1883-1958) of the Monarch Amusement Company; with Finlay operating the theatre and Ready managing the adjacent billiards room and tobacco shop. In 1924, the newly formed Monarch Theatre Company, with Joseph H. Yuill (1897-1971) as its general manager, purchased the Monarch Theatre from the Monarch Amusement Company following William B. Finlay's departure to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1923. Yuill's company would also purchase Medicine Hat's Roxy and Empress theatres before selling all their theatre assets to Famous Players Canadian Corporation in 1944. Famous Players maintained ownership of the Monarch Theatre until Landmark Cinemas acquired the theatre in 1985. The theatre has also benefited from several long-term managers throughout its history that have aided in its continued operation including: Leo A. Maher (circa 1925 to 1950); Fred G. Tickell (1950 to 1971); and Dale Reimer and Richard Ward in the latter part of the 20th century.

The Monarch Theatre, originally designed in the elegant Beaux Arts style by prominent local architect, William T. Williams, and built by local builders, Morton Fulton, and George S. Worthy, with Arthur P. Burns excavating the basement, was the largest and most extravagant theatre in Medicine Hat, exemplifying the growth and sophistication of the city during the Edwardian boom period. Williams' dramatic arched terracotta tile entryway with recessed doors was complemented by the work of interior designers Thomas Reynolds and William Stewart. Reynolds and Stewart encapsulated an atmosphere of exotic luxury through their design of a spacious lobby and richly decorated auditorium with distinctive plasterwork, coloured painted ceiling, electric lights, and luxurious 'opera chairs.' The 560-seat theatre opened December 21, 1911, premiering with a Mutt and Jeff film. The original 34 by 78 metre auditorium showed two movies daily with a matinee each afternoon. Initially, silent films were accompanied by a four-piece orchestra, until 'talkies'were intoduced through the addition of an RCA Photophone in 1929.

The Monarch Theatre is further significant for its refined Streamline Moderne-style, the result of a substantial renovation and expansion in 1935 and 1941, respectively. In the summer of 1935, a Streamline Moderne facade replaced the original arched Beaux Arts entryway. Contractor Duncan Morrison (1870-1953) introduced numerous innovations into the redesign of the theatre, including the addition of smooth stucco clad walls with crisp vertical towers flanking a central recessed glass door entryway. The base of the towers were faced with black vitrolite tile and detailed with California stucco. Morrison also installed a large steel marquee, the latest in theatre technology and design, over the front entry. The interior of the building was refurbished with a new men and women's washrooms, and a redesigned ticket office on the east side of the lobby. The interior was renovated in an Art Deco design with Moorish detailing, which was applied to emulate opulence and grandeur with ornate light fixtures, stenciled plaster trim, curved details, and a sage green, black, and sea foam colour palette. A dramatic curved iron staircase leading to a new ladies' powder room on the scond storey is still visible today. In 1940 to 1941, the auditorium was expanded into the adjacent billiards room and cigar shop, with seating capacity increased to 670. The mac's Cigar Store, a long-term tenant (1933-1993) situated in the east structural bay, front facade was also remodeled in a Streamline Modern-style with the addition of smooth stucco cladding and a central reeded glass block window.

The Monarch Theatre is also of social value as an important icon of Medicine Hat's entertainment history and an early example of community-driven historic preservation and commemoration. Over its 100 year history, audiences have been entertained with movies by some of the world's most famous actors, evolving from silent films accompanied by a live orchestra, to 'talkies', to colour films, to Cinemascope, to the current digital film technology. Due to the development of large-scale, multi-theatre complexes in the 1990s, the popularity of the Monarch Theatre waned, resulting in its temporary closure in 2007. Through the collective effort of the City of Medicine Hat and concerned citizens, the theatre was purchased by the City Centre Development Agency, an arms length agency of the city, in 2009. That same year, the Friends of the Monarch Society was formed whose principal role has been the conservation, interpretation, and promotion of this unique historic resource.

The Monarch Theatre is an important landmark in the City of Medicine Hat due to its distinctive Streamline Modern-style and prominent location on the south side of 2nd Street SE in Medicine Hat's downtown core.

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Monarch Theatre include elements such as the following:

- location on the south side of 2nd Street SE, connected to contemporaneous commercial buildings in Medicine Hat's historic downtown core;
- close setback to the street;
- form, scale, and massing as expressed by its: two-storey rectangular plan with flat roof and brickparapet; two (east and west) structural bays;
- masonry construction details including: concrete foundation; hollow brick tile and brick construction using brick from Alberta Clay Products; steel roof beams added in 1941; exterior stucco cladding on front facade;
- elements of original 1911 building including: red pressed brick walls in common bond on south, east and west elevations; segmental arched and circular window openings (now enclosed) in rear facade;
- Streamline Moderne-style elements from 1935 exterior renovation of west structural bay including: smooth stucco cladding; strong vertical stylized towers flanking a central portion with horizontal banding and speed lines below; recessed central entryway;
- Streamline Moderne-style elements from 1941 exterior renovation of east structual bay including: smooth stucco cladding; crenelated parapet; central window opening with reeded glass blocks;
- fenestration such as: fenestration opening at second storey on west structural bay; window opening on east structural bay; triple entryway wooden doors with full height lights (from 1935 renovation);
- additional elements including: steel marquee with curved corners anchored to the front facade; recessed movie poster cabinets on either side of front entry;

- Art Deco interior features from 1935 and 1941 renovations including: plaster trim with stenciled detailing; curved corners and archways; original Art Deco door hardware; steel curved open balustrade to basement (access to men's washroon); steel curved open balustrade to second storey (access to women's washroom); steel open balustrade to second storey projector room and office space with linoleum floor; six-paneled wooden doors; auditorium theatre from 1941 addition with: slopedfloors, Donnacona wall acoustic panels (added in 1950s), central curved stage with curtains and wooden flooring, flanked by identical double wooden multi-light doors with Art Deco inspired decorative painted plasterwork above; decorative plasterwork on walls and columns behind movie screen; and
- additional mechanical elements such as radiators from 1911 building.


Street Address: 609 to 613 - 2 Street SE
Community: Medicine Hat
Boundaries: Lots 3 and 4, Block 14, Plan 1491
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
3 & 4

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
50.040628 -110.675883

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type
5543198 523209


Recognition Authority: Local Governments (AB)
Designation Status: Municipal Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2016/09/07

Historical Information

Built: 1911/01/01
Significant Date(s) 1906 to 1913
Theme(s) Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Learning and the Arts
Historic Function(s): Leisure : Auditorium, Cinema or Nightclub
Current Function(s): Leisure : Auditorium, Cinema or Nightclub
Architect: William T. Williams
Builder: Morton Fulton and George S. Worthy

Additional Information

Object Number: 4664-0362
Designation File:
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File:
Website Link: www.medicinehat.ca
Data Source: City of Medicine Hat, City Clerk Department and Planning Department, 580 - 1st Street SE Medicine Hat, AB T1A 8E6
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