The iconic Armond Theatre sits on a piece of property with a long legacy in entertainment, as the lot was once home to Cranbrook Auditorium before it was torn down to make way for the new cinema.
The building was constructed in what is now the city’s downtown core to be a centre for entertainment in the growing community, meant to seat up to 600 people.
“They wanted to bring culture into Cranbrook. Around this time we started getting banks in town and different businesses started popping up,” said Georgia Hamilton, historical interpreter with the Cranbrook History Centre.
The theatre first opened its doors to Cranbrook audiences on August 13, 1907.
“They first did the opera, Olivette. This was really exciting for Cranbrook because this was one of the first sorts of artsy things people were able to do. It wasn’t very fancy when it first opened, but the people of Cranbrook were just happy to have a theatre at all,” explained Hamilton.
Throughout its life, the Cranbrook Auditorium remained a hub for the performing arts in Cranbrook.
Hamilton said the Auditorium was eventually bought out by the Oddfellows society in 1921.
“They used it for their meetings, they also rented it out as a hall for people to use,” explained Hamilton. “It had political rallies, masquerades and vaudeville shows.”
The building did not become an official movie theatre until the early 50s after it was bought out by new owners.
“In 1946 it was bought by Cranbrook Theatres Ltd. and they were the people that turned it into what we now know as the Armond today, that’s when it became a movie theatre,” said Hamilton.
The original building was torn down and replaced by a sturdy movie theatre.
“When Armond Blane originally built the theatre, he overengineered it out of concrete, due to the fact that it’s fire-resistant, it helps contain loud sound and he wanted it to be built for the ages,” said Ferdy Belland, current Managing Director of the Armond Theatre.
When the new building was constructed, they installed a proper movie theatre and renamed it the Armond.
This new cinema opened to the public in 1952 and debuted with a showing of An American in Paris.
The Armond eventually closed its doors to the public in 1999, after it remained a staple in the community for 92 years. According to the Cranbrook History Centre, part of the reason behind its closure was that it could not compete with the new Landmark Cinema that opened in the Tamarack Mall.
The building remained unused for 20 years, even though the property changed hands several times until three investors took ownership of the building on January 13, 2020.
Belland, along with his fellow investors Spencer Kerr and Casey Wright said they are committed to breathing life back into the Armond.
Belland said the most challenging part of construction so far has been removing hazardous materials and repairing the roof.
“Once we complete both of those big tasks, then the building will no longer be classified as a derelict structure in the eyes of the City of Cranbrook,” said Belland. “We will be using the original art deco theme of the Armond gone-by to help us put together the aesthetics as far as interior design goes.”
Belland said there have been some interesting finds while work has been ongoing in the building, including the original box office window. That said, most of it had been cleaned out by previous owners and occupants.
“We found the tube-driven amplifier which used to power the main speaker for the auditorium,” said Belland. “We found old benched which had been inscribed with signatures or ushers and employees who worked there in the past.”
Belland hopes the theatre will reopen to customers sometime in the fall of 2022 or the spring of 2023.
The History Centre offers guided tours to various historic locations around Cranbrook’s downtown area. A registration link can be found below.
More: Downtown Historic Walking Tour (Cranbrook History Centre)
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