Logged in as user  [Login]  |
Return to Search Results Printable Version

Key Number: HS 22344
Site Name: Empress Theater
Other Names:
Site Type: 0204 - Social and Recreational: Theatre or Cinema


ATS Legal Description:
Twp Rge Mer
9 26 4

Address: 235 - 24 Street
Number: 35
Street: 24
Avenue: 2
Town: Fort Macleod
Near Town:


Type Number Date View


Plan Shape: Rectangular
Storeys: Storeys: 1 1/2
Foundation: Basement/Foundation Wall Material: Concrete
Superstructure: Metal
Superstructure Cover:
Roof Structure: Flat
Roof Cover:
Exterior Codes: Wall Design and Detail: Stepped Parapet
Wall Design and Detail: Decorated Parapet
Wall Design and Detail: Decorative Brick
Window - Special Types: Round
Exterior: South elevation - projecting entablature, recessed panel with decorative brickwork, projecting decorative brick work at southeast and southwest corners, parapet with decorative brick trim, round windows, stepped roofline, east and west elevation.
Interior: N/A
Environment: Located in the centre of Fort Macleod's commercial district. The theatre is part of the historic streetscape currently being considered for area designation.
Condition: The site environment is generally good with favourable drainage away from the structure. A high degree of original fabric is evident on both the interior and exterior with some alterations having been made to the facade. The mechanical and electrical systems would require some upgrading. Although the building is structurally sound, minor work would be required to meet building code standards.
Alterations: Originally, the entrance to the buiding was through a brick archway but this has now been altered.


Construction: Construction Date:
Usage: Usage Date:
Owner: Owner Date:
Suresh Bhemsein Prasad & Sylvana La Selva
Architect: N/A
Builder: J.S Lambert
Craftsman: N/A
History: BUILDING/SITE DESCRIPTION: The Empress Theatre was built in 1912 by a Fort Macleod contractor, J.S. Lambert for Thomas S. Martin, a local lawyer. It is a simple rectangular brick building, with a decorated front facade. It features a small central round window, summetrically placed decorative stucco panels, corner piers and a slightly curved parapet.
Originally, the entrance to the building was through a brick archway but this gas now been altered.
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: Fort Macleod was the destination of the NWMP after their cross-country trek of 1874. Originallly the town was located on an island in the Oldman River, but it moved to its present site in the 1880s. The town grew quickly, anticipating the arrival of the railway and of the main line through the Crowsnest Pass. However, Fort Macleod never became the major rail terminus it had hoped and for a number of years the town grew little.
The years prior to the First World War were very prosperous for the town. At that time, four theatres, including the Empress, operated in town. Built in 1912, the Empress was heralded as a 'first class theatre', one of a string of western theatres. The Empress hosted many vaudeville acts in addition to being a movie house, indication the importance of Fort Macleod to the North American theatrical circuit. Grafitti on the dressing room walls indicate that travelling performers came for as far away as Australia and New York city.
ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: The theatre was a very important component of the social life of any prairie town. It offered an escape from the day to day world into another, often more exciting world. The architecture of theatres reflected this and they were often luxuriously decorated. The Empress provided seating for four hundred in comfortable plush chairs. The ceiling of the building was of pressed tin upon which a neon tulip was superimposed during the 1930s. Handsome tiffany-styled lamps were used for lighting and the theatre, while by no means as eleborate as larger urban theatres, was comfortable and welcoming.
The outside of the theatre was quite plain when compared to the elaborate, often garish urban theatres, but it suited both the streets cape and the character of Fort Macleod. Only the south facade of the Empress is decorated, and it is characterized by two projecting brickwork piers, a parapet with decorative brick trim, a projecting cornice, decorative stucco panels and a small round window that lights the projection room. Originally, the theatre's entranceway was arched but this has now been filled in, disruptng the curing decorative program of the front facade.
* * * THE EMPRESS THEATRE By Rise M. Massey
... The theatre's owner, Thomas B. Martin, arrived from Ontario to practise law in the town from 1906 until his death in 1928. Martin bought the lot on which he built the Empress in 1907 from the prominent Mcleod businessman Chow Sam. Local building contractor, J.S. Lambert, who constructed many of the town's most important buildings, was hired by Martin to erect the Empress Theatre. Martin was never directly involved in the theatre's operation, but instead relied on others to run his establishment. In August 1912, The Macleod Spectator stated that the theatre's first manager was K.J.
McRae who operated ' a string of movie theatres.' This may indicate that the Empress was indeed leased to a syndicate. The Spectator also announced that a certain business was to move its office to the 'Empress Theatre Building.' A year after the theatre opened, the Empress stage was deepened. C.W. Stevens was employed by Lambert to do the renovations in the evenings.
... Shortly after T.B. Martin's death, his widow, Ruby Gwendolyn Martin sold the theatre to Augustus T. Leather, a prominent Macleod businessman. He immediately resold the theatre to James A. Booth and his partner, W.E. Beatty, of Red Deer, Alberta. In 1929, James Booth, known as 'Alf' to local residents, acquired a new partner, Cecil J.
Hughes. During the period of their proprietorship, 'talking pictures' came to Macleod; prior to this, Booth played piano in the pit, while Hughes operated the projector. 'Gift nights', when glassware was given away in a contest, were held by the theatre on Mondays in order to attract patrons. Called 'Hollywood', the game was played with a wheel of fortune projected 'on the screen.' Twenty dollars worth of free cash prizes was given away. Movies were played later.
... Financial difficulty caused Booth and Hughes to lose the Empress Theatre to the British Canadian Trust Company in 1931. The theatre was once again run by A.T. Leather, as agent until 1937. It was then resold, this time to Daniel A. Boyle, under whose direction the Empress enjoyed its most successful and profitable period as a movie theatre.
Boyle moved to Macleod from Granum where he had been proprietor of the town Opera House, the 'source of all entertainment in Granum, including dances, travelling shows, Chautauqua (once a year), and moving pictures'. He had operated the opera house during the transition from silent pictures to 'talkies' and was active in Granum's social life and in the Dramatic Society in particular. When Granum's limited growth became apparent, Boyle moved his family to Macleod in 1936 where he purchased the Empress Theatre. He became very involved in community affairs and one of Macleod's most prominent citizens. In 1960, he was named 'citizen of the year'.
During the period of Boyle's ownership, movies changed three times a week and ran six nights a week, with two shows a night. Extensive renovations were undertaken and additions were made. The alcoves were decorated with velvet curtains made by Mrs. Edna Boyle. Decorative neon lighting in pink and green was installed on the ceiling in the form of one large tulip and two smaller ones: and a one hundred seat balcony was added to accomodate the increased patronage resulting from the opening of the Macleod airport during the Second World War.
Wartime restrictions on luxury merchandise, motorcars, and gadgets funnelled money into movie box offices and the theatre prospered. At the end of the war, television was released from war controls with the result that movie attendance decreased from 1946-1952. According to one account of the moving picture industry, 'literally thousands of lesser theatres... kept solvent only by the sale of confectionary, popcorn, and the like.' ...


Status: Status Date:
Designation Status: Designation Date:
Provincial Historic Resource
Record Information: Record Information Date:
K. Williams 1989/07/02


Alberta Register of Historic Places: 4665-0489
Return to Search Results Printable Version

Freedom to Create. Spirit to Achieve.

Home    Contact Us    Login   Library Search

© 1995 - 2024 Government of Alberta    Copyright and Disclaimer    Privacy    Accessibility