Through A Glass Colourfully: Vitrolite Glass Tiles Make Its Comeback at the Westdale

Vitrolite is a name you may have heard of from the past. It’s the name given to a form of coloured glass tile by the company of the same name that became synonymous with architectural glass tile, even though many other companies made a similar product. Think of Vitrolite as being to coloured glass tile as Kleenex is to tissue. Developed in the United States in 1900, it was widely used around the world in the first half of the 20th century in Art Deco and Art Moderne buildings. Clearly, Westdale Theatre architect, W. Bruce Riddell, liked the material enough to specify its use outside and inside the theatre.

The original Vitrolite glass tile was covered by this grey angel stone cladding during the 1969 renovation.

His design of the covered entranceway featured Vitrolite tiles on the side walls and the wall surrounding the double sets of doors through which patrons entered and exited the theatre. The colours he selected, based on the tiles the restoration team has been able to uncover, included black, ivory, jade, and a brilliant red-orange tile called ‘tango’. The glass tiles were covered up during a 1969 renovation of the theatre that saw the addition of grey angel stone bricks that were used outside in the covered entranceway, as well as in the theatre’s interior. In addition to the grey angel stone, pebble dash stone was added to the walls of the lobby, obliterating the Vitrolite tiles. Unfortunately, many of these tiles were broken during the renovation, although the restoration team was able to ‘harvest’ a number of whole tiles through carefully removing them. Once the tiles had been removed from the wall, the rock hard adhesive had to be removed by hand without breaking the tiles. Volunteers did all of this work, producing a small inventory of original Vitrolite tiles.

Photographs of the tile pattern were taken after the angel stone and been removed, so we had a good sense for how the architect had intended the tile to be used. A drawing was developed that made use of every last bit of ‘harvested’ Vitrolite.

Even the broken pieces were saved and have been turned into beautiful, Art Deco-inspired jewelry by Heather Ladouceur Designs. These limited-edition pieces are available for purchase on the Westdale Cinema Group’s website at buildingmagic.ca.

When the theatre re-opens, you’ll be able to see just how vibrant the Vitrolite colours still are 80 years after they were originally installed.

 

Even broken pieces of Vitrolite were saved and turned into works of art by Heather Ladouceur.

A detailed plan was drawn up based on the ‘harvested’ Vitrolite tiles that survived the 1969 renovation. Many were broken and unsalvageable.