Calgary’s iconic Plaza Theatre up for lease
CALGARY -- A landmark in the heart of Kensington, the owner of the Plaza Theatre is looking for someone to take over its lease.
“We weren’t expecting to put it up this early however due to the circumstances that COVID has put us in, my father’s unfortunately having to retire early,” said TJ Brar, son of Plaza Theatre owner Mike Brar.
“We had initially planned to keep it going for three, four years more, but unfortunately he’s having to put it up for lease now.”
The theatre has been owned by the Brar family, who are based in Edmonton, for the past 40 years.
“We’re hoping to have a tenant who would hopefully keep the theatre the way it is which is as a movie theatre,” said Brar.
“Just the experience that you get from coming to our theatre is different than any mainstream theatre.”
A plaque outside the doors tells its history.
The Plaza Theatre was built in the late 1920s as an automobile garage then the space was converted to meet the growing trend toward neighbourhood theatres during the Great Depression.
The Plaza Theatre opened on Jan. 10, 1935 with the comedy Mr. Skitch, starring Will Rogers and ZaSu Pitts.
For the next 25 years it was a family theatre, offering second-run films and children’s matinees. Since 1995, the Plaza has operated as a first-run, art house cinema.
“A theatre is a cultural go-to spot for entertainment, because this vintage theatre does live performances as well as movies,” said Annie MacInnis, executive director of the Kensington Business Improvement Area.
“I really hope that somebody else who wants to operate an arts venue with movies and live performances like what we have now will step forward and continue this history."
Rob Dougherty, a middle school film teacher, said the Plaza Theatre is a unique one.
“The Plaza is a place where independent filmmakers can find a home, film festivals can find a place, special events can be hosted here and it’s affordable and it’s so beautiful and it’s such an amazing part of Calgary," he said.
"I’d hate to see anything happen to it. The Plaza Theatre is a place where my students have been to gather to screen their films and complete the filmmaker's journey. To sit in a theatre to see their work up on the screen, that inspires so many of them to continue to explore career paths in the film industry here in Alberta."
Local Filmmaker Amair Javaid, who released Hafiz, his first major film last year, said he hopes to screen a future film at the Plaza. He said Indie filmmakers rely on smaller venues to be able to play their films on the big screen.
“It’s not like we can afford screening at these giant chain cinemas, so having these smaller cinemas gives us an opportunity to showcase our work at a smaller scale and connect with different audience members, without going bankrupt essentially,” said Javaid.
The Brar family also owns the Princess Theatre, an iconic art-house theatre in Edmonton. Brar said that location may also soon be up for lease, but they’re not for sale.
“It would be quite a loss if they were to shut down,” said Brar.
Brar said he hopes someone will take over the lease at the Plaza as soon as possible.