Hubby and I sat around the other night reminiscing about movies we seen as kids in downtown Oshawa and naming the theatres we’d gone to before the Oshawa Centre mall was built and everything changed. There were several theatres that we could get to by bus, hoofing it on foot, or if we were real lucky, a ride from one of our parents. It was the thing to do on a Saturday, hanging out with your friends and meeting up at the movie theatre.
The theatres were full of rowdy little punks, but not in a way that really caused that much grief. It was a time and an experience that I’m thankful I was a part of; it was great times and I gotta admit, I miss.
At 39 King Street East, where you’ll now find Status Lounge night club, was the site of The Biltmore. (It later became the ODEON.) The building was modeled on Art Deco architecture. In the photograph below you will notice a thermometer that resembles a clock. If you look closely at the front of the building today, that thermometer is still there.
It opened in 1949 and closed in 1965. In 1969 it re-opened as the Odeon and closed in 1989. There was also the Multiplex that had 2 screens for about 50 people each in the area of what is now Stuttering John’s on Simcoe just south of King. It was open for less than a year in 1979.
“The original Star Wars movie was screened at the Biltmore. All the Ushers were dressed as Princess Leia in flowing white robes with hair done in the trademark buns!”
“They would stop the movie in the middle when they had to change the reel. They’d also stop it if we got too rowdy. The manager would come out and tell us that if we didn’t shut up he wouldn’t put the movie back on. You’d never get away with that now.”
“It was not exactly quiet during the show. The ushers were there in their uniforms and with flashlights, and they would give you a hard time if you came in late. So would the rest of the audience.”
“The thing to do was to flatten your cardboard popcorn box and whip it at the screen. I don’t know why we did it, but we did. There was one box or another flying pretty much non-stop during the movie.”
“Upstairs in the balcony was the best place to sit. It was a little more chaotic and fun up there but you had to get up there quickly before it filled up.”
“There was always a fire exit by the front and if you did it right, you could sneak one or two of your friends in. But you didn’t want to get caught, that’s for sure. Of course, I never did it…”
“Smoking was allowed in theatres in those days. You could see the smoke curling through the light from the projector.”
The Regent Theatre
The Regent Theatre opened its doors to the public on October 16, 1921. Owned and operated by the Famous Players Canadian Corporation Ltd., the Regent Theatre was the first theatre in Oshawa to offer “perfect vision” for all patrons through its ramped floor. When the Regent Theatre first opened on King Street, its front was modeled on Georgian Architecture. The entrance lobby and promenade were finished in mahogany.
“Recently I visited The Regent theatre and when I went into the ladies’ washroom it was like nothing had changed at all. I could remember running in there with my girlfriends after a show. It felt exactly the same.”
“As teens we go on a Saturday afternoon and you could stay and watch a movie as many times as you wanted to.”
” I remember when I was a young boy going to the Regent. There was always this little man at the door dressed in a red usher’s uniform taking tickets. He had a strong British accent and was always so polite. I was about 12 years old and he was shorter than me.”
The biggest movie hit, until 1970, was the Sound of Music which grossed $75,000 over a six week period for The Regent.
“A whole gang of us would go to the movies together. We’d walk or maybe take the bus. It was something fun to do, especially in the winter. We’d go alone, without any parents or anything. We were eight years old.”
“I can remember going to the movies when I was around ten or so. My father would drop me off on Saturday morning and I’d go off to find my friends waiting in the lineup, which stretched around the block sometimes. I remember standing in front of the Regent Theatre in the snow. We’d be waiting in line a long time and we’d always see someone else we knew. It was the thing to do on a Saturday.”
“They always played a cartoon before the movie, and it was a really big deal. If they hadn’t played the cartoon, they might well have expected a riot. Not many of us had colour TV at home, so to see a colour cartoon was something else.”
“There was no break between the showings. You could come in at any time and if we missed the cartoons or beginning of the movie we’d just stay for the next showing and leave at the part where we came in. The cartoons were a big part of the whole outing and we definitely wanted to see them.”
The Plaza Theatre
The Plaza Theatre was located where Riley’s Restaurant is currently located on King Street in Oshawa. It was also known as the Hyland in later years. This was the last operating movie theatre in downtown Oshawa.
The Marks Theatre
The Martin Theatre was located at King and Celina Streets. (Now it is the parking lot beside Avanti’s.) Way back in 1875, it was a hotel named Finnigan’s (later American) Hotel, and many traveling performers stayed there. Ernie Marks was among them. In 1931, Ernie Marks, acquired the Martin’s Theatre and became mayor of Oshawa in the same year. The Marks Theatre, as it was later known, presented musical revues, stage plays, and amateur talent nights for years after films began to be screened. The Marks continued as an independent movie house, surviving a series of fires from nearby buildings, until the late 80s. It was demolished in 1992.