Old Sault cinemas gone, but new movies keep coming (9 photos)Wednesday, July 16, 2014 by: Darren Taylor
(NOTE: SooToday.com thanks the Sault Ste. Marie Museum for its help in providing much of the information and photos for this story)
As Sault moviegoers line up to see this summer’s blockbusters at Galaxy Cinemas, we thought we would take time to share some facts and photos of movie theatres in Sault Ste. Marie.
The first theatre in town was the Grand Opera House, constructed in 1903 by Albert Search at the corner of Bay and Brock Streets. It ceased operating in 1923, the building itself demolished in 1972.
By 1912, the Orpheum Theatre opened on Queen Street.
By that time, there were four other theatres offering entertainment.
They were the Bijou and the Lyceum, both on Brock Street, the Gaytey at 551 Queen Street, and the Opera House at Bay and Brock.
It may surprise many that the King’s Apartments, just south of the Queen and Dennis bus terminal, once was a large theatre in 1912 offering vaudeville shows as “wholesome entertainment.”
The theatre was bankrupt by 1925.
None of the old style movie theatres or drive in theatres remain in operation in the Sault.
The façade of the old Algoma Theatre, all that remains of that structure, now serves as the front entrance to Smokey’s Barbecue Pit & Patio at 654 Queen Street East.
The Algoma Theatre opened in the early 1920s and kept Sault audiences entertained for decades as it went through many renovations and upgrades.
Finally, in 1987, the Theatre closed and was occupied by Bunkers Paintball before the building, except for its façade, was demolished in 2006.
Queen Street's Orpheum Theatre, which was a part of the Sault theatre scene for decades, eventually went out of business and the building itself was demolished in 1979.
The Odeon Theatre was originally known as the Biltmore Theatre, at 641 Queen Street East, in 1948.
It eventually became the Odeon Biltmore Theatre in 1965, then finally, the Odeon Theatre in 1968.
The Odeon closed in 1989, and beginning in 1994, was used as a bingo hall by various groups.
Since 2007, the building has operated as a live theatre, most recently known as The Grand Theatre.
The structure of another old theatre, the Princess Theatre, still stands.
The Princess opened in 1918 on Gore Street, entertaining audiences for decades.
By 1997, the Princess building had been renovated and used as a bar and dance hall.
It now stands unoccupied, but there is the possibility it may be used for some purpose again, especially as city council has committed to revitalizing Gore Street.
Time will tell.
The last of the old style movie theatres and drive-ins closed by 2012.
After the Algoma closed in 1987, the Soo Drive-In followed that same year, the Odeon and Skylark Drive In in 1989, the Princess in the 1990s and the Station Mall Cinema (opened in 1974) expanded into the present day Galaxy Cinemas.
In 2002, the Skylark Drive-In reopened in a flash of nostalgia, but closed again in 2012 after a decade-long run.
The Galaxy Cinemas complex has contracted from 12 to seven theatres this year in what Cineplex Communications described to SooToday.com as an opportunity to “right-size.”
Cineplex said the original Galaxy Cinemas complex in the Sault was too big for the market to begin with.
Throughout the years, theatres in Sault Ste. Marie (and any place where theatres can be found) have gone through tremendous change.
There were many theatres in the Sault (not just those listed above) and were, at first, vaudeville halls.
They were replaced as silent era movie houses, where a pianist or band provided live music to play along to the action on the silent screen.
Then, of course, came the talkie era in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Many people will remember a night at the movies to be truly a full night out, including a short, introductory B-movie and an intermission before the main feature.
Children would be able to enjoy a cartoon(s) before the main feature.
There can be no doubt that the introduction of home theatres (rental or purchase of movies on Beta and VHS tapes, followed by rental or purchase of DVDs, and now, Netflix) led to the decline of the old style movie theatre, at least in Sault Ste. Marie.
Still, many people will enjoy the chance to get away from it all and flock to a complex like Galaxy Cinemas on a hot summer day or evening for a couple of hours of big screen entertainment.
(PHOTO: Algoma Theatre, 1947, with thanks to the Sault Ste. Marie Museum)