Lobbying Efforts: Original Architectural Drawings & Historical Photographs Used To Recreate Original Lobby

This photograph of the original lobby is the only one found to exist, courtesy of the Ontario Archives.

When you walk through the double entrance doors that are based on the design of the original doors, you’ll find yourself in the lobby that greeted the very first patrons of the Westdale Theatre when it first opened in August of 1935. Think stylishly Art Deco. How do we know what was there? Because a full set of the original architectural drawings, done by the architectural firm of W. Bruce Riddell, that was located in the Sun Life Building at the corner of James Street and Main, were uncovered by the City of Hamilton. Not only that, but a trip to the Ontario Archives produced a photograph of the original lobby, the only photograph we’ve been able to find so far.

The Westdale Theatre is now a designated historic building. The designation process was something everyone involved in the project including Ward 1 Councillor Aidan Johnson, the Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee, and the Westdale Cinema Group, wanted to have happen. As a result, while the mechanical and electrical services are all being replaced, the exterior, covered entranceway, lobby, rear lounge and auditorium are all being restored to their original beauty.

A full set of the original architectural drawings done by the firm of W. Bruce Riddell were provided by the City of Hamilton.

Gone is the pebbledash covering the walls that was part of a renovation in 1969. The pebbledash will be replaced by jazz plaster, mirrors, black and green wood trim, and large, glossy tiles to mimic the original Vitrolite tiles, which are no longer manufactured.. The diamond-shaped terrazzo floor is intact and will repaired and polished. The jazz plaster ceiling, and the fancy metal grill at its centre, are also intact.

In the single, archival photograph we’ve been able to find, there’s no sign of a concession stand. Nor is there one in the original drawings. We assume items were sold by ushers from over the shoulder trays.

But, even restored theatres need to serve popcorn, soft drinks, candy and more, in order to remain viable. The Westdale plans to add wine and beer to that list, as well as ‘Broadway’ bars, made famous by the Broadway Theatre in downtown Hamilton back in the 70’ and 80’s.

The design of the original lobby, seen in a drawing from 1935 (top), will return in the restored Westdale Theatre (bottom).

The only significant ‘change to the original design of the lobby will be the expansion of the concession stand. The new counter will feature two separate points of sale where you can purchase drinks and candies, as well as a barrier free counter height section where orders can be placed. At the end closest to the entrance, you’ll be able to purchase tickets at the counter. That , if you haven’t already ordered your tickets online. Some things just have to give way to modern conveniences and norms. Not only that, but current Health Department regulations mean we had to add things such as running water and hand-washing sinks, meaning the concession stand had to grow to accommodate these current requirements.

The lobby familiar to most of us was renovated in 1969, including the addition of pebbledash stone walls.

When the pebbledash was removed from the walls during restoration, there was ghosting visible on the lobby walls of the original Art Deco shapes and colours. That was helpful information for the restoration team. It meant we could literally ‘see’ what had been covered up for almost 50 years. Being able to match up what we could see on the walls with what we could see on the original drawings made us even more confident about what we had to do to restore the lobby. And that lone photograph helped confirm a few more details, even though it didn’t show us the entire lobby.

So, when you return to the Westdale after it re-opens, know that you’ll be standing in a space that looks very much as it did over 80 years ago when the theatre, along with the other retailers in Westdale Village, first opened their doors to the residents of the newly planned community of Westdale.

Sometimes, history does repeat itself.