11th hour community group plans to save historic cinema, but faces scrutiny from sceptical City Council.

Why it matters

Opened in June 1949, this large movie theatre in the heart of downtown Chilliwack has become an important historic landmark, one of few remaining in the district, and a key community gathering place. Architecturally, the cinema declares its roots in the International style—characterized by vertical and horizontal lines with little ornamentation—with traces of Art Deco influences in its signage and fluted façade. Solidly built, the movie house features laminated firewalls and is constructed of reinforced concrete and 60 tons of structural steel. It is listed on the City of Chilliwack’s Heritage inventory, but it is not a designated heritage site.

Why it’s endangered

After operating as a movie house continuously for over 60 years, the Paramount ceased operations in November 2010. The owner, Landmark Cinemas, gave the theatre to the city saying it was a gift to the people of Chilliwack for all their years of support. The theatre has been vacant and unheated ever since, and reportedly requires a new boiler and roof. In February 2012, a city staff report made it clear that despite an extensive year-long effort to find someone willing to redevelop the property only two unsatisfactory proposals had come forward. Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO) then offered to demolish the Paramount at no cost at the same time as the adjacent (and structurally interconnected) Ewert Building, which suffered from environmental contamination. On March 6, in response to a growing public outcry spearheaded by the newly formed Save the Chilliwack Paramount Theatre working group, Council voted to give community groups until June 21 to develop a new business proposal to rehabilitate and run the theatre, while reiterating there was no appetite to put City money into the project.  It is estimated that $300,000 will be needed just to open the theatre, not to mention ongoing operating funding and any upgrades.

Where it stands

The Save the Chilliwack Paramount Theatre group submitted its business proposal to the City on June 21. The proposal included a plan to transform the Paramount into a single-screen, repertory-type theatre offering 600 seats for patrons to screen vintage, independent, alternative or non-mainstream films. In recent months, the campaign to save the theatre has seen a surge of interest from a broad spectrum of residents—youth, seniors, business owners, and the arts community—and garnered lots of media coverage. Offers have poured in to assess the building, donate electrical expertise, or create artistic renderings, among other in-kind services. More than 100 Chilliwack storefronts are sporting posters saying, “We support community efforts to preserve our landmark theatre.” A Save A Seat fundraising campaign has also been launched and has raised pledges of over $10,000.

Demolished! On August 21, 2012 council voted in favour of the staff recommendation to demolish the building for economic reasons, rejecting the idea to run it as a not-for-profit theatre.