by Dick Nieuwendyk
The Imperial was designed by architect Albert E. Westover of Philadelphia and built for the Keith-Albee Vaudeville Organization. With a seating capacity of 2,300, it opened to the general public on April 26, 1913.
The interior decoration was done by Tognarelli & Voight of Philadelphia while the original frescoes in the lobby were the work of New York artist William Eckhart. For his part, Emmanuel Briffa painted the asbestos curtain. The Imperial had a large stage that could be used for vaudeville acts. By 1934, with vaudeville declining, the theatre was rented to Léo-Ernest Ouimet (founder of the famed Ouimetoscope in 1906), who showed French motion pictures there, as part of the variety programmes. In 1936, RKO Radio Pictures sold the movie house to the Montreal-based Consolidated Theatres, the ancestor of Famous Players; in 1954, it was renovated by interior designer Oscar Glas and was equipped with the Cinerama system.
In 1970 the building was sold to the Montreal company Cinéma International Ltée by Consolidated’s successor, United Theatres. The new owner transformed it in 1974 into a two-screen operation, Ciné-Centre I & II, by installing a partition between the orchestra and balcony levels. United Theatres (which later became Famous Players) re-purchased the Imperial in 1980 and restored the theatre back into a single hall and gave back all of its original lustre. With larger seats and the upper part of the balcony closed to make room for office space, seating capacity was reduced to 932.
Throughout the eighties, the Imperial gains a reputation as Montreal’s best cinema because of its comfort, decor, unmatched projection and sound qualities. In 1986, the Imperial Theatre became the first cinema in Quebec to receive THX certification. At the turn of the nineties, a shift towards multiplexes signaled the end of the Imperial as a commercial movie theatre, and in 1995 it was donated to the Montreal World Film Festival by Famous Players.
The Centre Cinéma Impérial, a non-profit organization, is incorporated the same year with the mission to manage the building and operate the venue. Since then, many film events have taken place at the Imperial, cultural films have been released and the Centre Cinéma Impérial has produced numerous festivals and retrospectives. The venue has also been rented for Premieres, film shootings, photo sessions and private screenings. In 2001, the Imperial was officially
recognized as a historical monument by Quebec’s Culture and Communications Department.
The Imperial Theatre is located on 1430 Bleury St, Montreal