Posted by: Kathy Krywicki
A remarkable milestone has been reached in our neighbourhood: the Mayfair Theatre first opened its doors on December 5, 1932, some eighty years ago!
The theatre was built as an “atmospheric” cinema, with Spanish Revival influences. The atmospheric style of theatre design was based on the desire to transport the theatre-goer to another time and place, to distract them from life’s problems and provide them with an atmosphere of rest and beauty. The Mayfair’s design mimics a Mediterranean plaza by featuring an ornate painted ceiling, faux stone facades and balconies, with wrought ironwork and ornamental glass windows in the theatre’s auditorium.
In a full-page spread on Saturday, December 3, 1932, the Ottawa Citizen announced “Slipping quietly and unostentatiously into the entertainment life of the city, the new Mayfair theatre opens its doors to the public on Monday when the premiere will be thrown on the screen at seven o’clock. At a quarter to the hour the public will be admitted and the first nighters will have a little time to revel in the beauties of Mayfair before becoming absorbed in the screen attractions.”
Explaining the significance of such a venue, Alain Miguelez, author of A Theatre Near You: 150 Years of Going to the Show in Ottawa-Gatineau, remarks “built as focal points for their neighbourhoods before the advent of television, neighbourhood theatres beckoned people at a distance with lively illuminated signage and colourful poster display and photo still of the movies being shown, and elaborate architecture that followed a variety of themes.” He adds “with a large entrance hall directly on the sidewalk, neighbourhood cinemas were genuine community living rooms, populated by children during weekend matinees and so well attended every weekday evening that programs changed up to three times a week.”
The Mayfair has survived as an independent establishment in a market dominated by large theatre chains. It remains a focal point in Ottawa South.
In 2008, the City of Ottawa designated the Mayfair Theatre as official heritage property noting that the simple brick exterior harmonizes with the residential neighbourhood and reflects the main street character of the surrounding area, while the scalloped wall parapet hints at the dramatic Spanish Revival style auditorium inside. The heritage evaluation further notes “despite alterations to the storefronts, renovations to the lobby and the removal of the original upright sign, the Mayfair Theatre maintains a high degree of integrity, looking essentially the same as it did when it opened in 1932.”
For the past eight months, screenings of the best of films from the 1930s-2000 have been featured – a decade for each month – in order to raise funds for a switchover to digital technology. By the end of 2012, studios and distributors will no longer be making or shipping film prints. This means the theatre must buy a new projector. Come out to the grand finale on December 2, 2012 to mark the 80th anniversary. Enjoy a screening of the 1932 classic Scarface and help keep the Mayfair open for another eighty years!
More details on the Mayfair Theatre heritage property.