Our History - the Capitol Theatre, Nelson BC


1900

Nelson was the hub of western transportation at the turn of the century. It was the largest city between Vancouver and Winnipeg. The railways hauled goods from the United States, brought coal for the mining smelters, and hauled away lumber to markets. Stern wheelers carried goods and people to remote townsites and mines. Boris Karloff began his performing career at the Nelson Opera House.

 


1927

Wild miners had given way to settled folks as the mines and smelters closed and growth leveled out. Like all cities, Nelson desired the celluloid culture of the cinema. The glamour and glitter of the Capitol Theatre emerged from the humdrum earthy Central Garage which had been built earlier in 1924 on Victoria Street. In March of 1927, Mr. A.H. Green, a prominent Nelson contractor, commissioned the Vancouver firm of Townley & Matheson to design a theatre for him. Work began in April, and on September the 5th, 1927, the Capitol Theatre officially opened at a cost of $75,000. Mayor J.A. McDonald presided over the opening ceremonies, lauding the theatre as one of the finest on the continent. Serving principally as a movie house in the Paramount chain of leased theatres, the Capitol’s early credits included Nelson’s first exposure to the “talkies” with Desert Song starring the dashing John Boles. Interspersed in the schedule were live dramatic performances of traveling companies and local groups including Nelson Little Theatre and the Rossland Light Opera Players. The Rossland company traveled with its cast and props in a special train. Actors had to use a nearby barber shop for costume changes because of the limited wing space and absence of dressing rooms.

 


1930's

This was the hey-day of the cinema. Crowds flocked to see nightly shows complemented by live acts to introduce the movies. The decrepit old Opera House burned down in 1935 and A.H. Green built the 1000 seat Civic Theatre for live theatre.

 


1940 - 1960

During this era, the gradual demise of the Capitol Theatre began. Wartime meant less time, people and money for movies. Famous Players, holding the lease on both theatres opted to book the larger Civic Theatre for films. The Capitol ran films sporadically for a few years, with live acts, music shows, and the occasional rummage sale. By 1950 performances were reduced to 2 or 3 live acts per month. Repairs and necessary improvements were neglected and the building fell into disrepair. At its lowest point, the Capitol was used as an auction hall and furniture warehouse. An indication of the owner’s recognition of the situation occurred in 1963 when the seats were removed and the lobby, with its elaborate and distinctive hexagonal ticket booth and a real estate office built in its place. The roof leaked, and where the audience once thrilled to the wonder of cinema and theatre sat a dank pool of water.

 


1983

Visionaries saw that Nelson could use a live theatre space. The dream of restoring the Capitol developed slowly and painfully with the Capitol Theatre Restoration Society’s formation in December 1982. The building was acquired by the City of Nelson in 1983 with funds raised locally and through Federal and Provincial job-funding programs. The grants were largely for labor, and community groups contributed materials. It was not until 1987 that a significant Expo 86 grant provided the necessary funding for engineering and supervisory personnel. The restoration project took off. The theatre was completely gutted. The state of disrepair proved more severe than originally anticipated, and eventually the roof trusses and roof had to be replaced.

 


1988

On the evening of April 17th, 1988 when the house lights dimmed and an expectant hush stilled the audience, it had been 60 years since the first Gala Opening of Nelson’s Capitol Theatre. The original Art Deco theatre, even in its heyday, never looked grander. The rich crimson seats, carpets and curtains complemented the gold glow of the walls. Miraculously preserved and gently restored, the 6 illuminated side murals sparkled once more. The functional area of the stage had been increased with a new apron. The organ lofts, with their gilded facades, had been restored and made into useful balconies, ready for Romeo and Juliet. The new acoustic baffles made the theatre a musical paradise. The original proscenium arch had been restored to original Art Deco beauty by a European plasterer. Ceiling corbels, modeled in wood by a high school class, and a large original chandelier had recaptured some of the overhead charm of the old moviehouse. The acquisition of the adjacent Telus building became the long-needed lobby, art gallery, dressing rooms, Green Room, scene shop and Box Office. The Capitol Theatre had become an effective performing arts center. Sixty years after its first opening, Nelson’s Capitol Theatre had once more taken up the task of providing recreation and entertainment not only for Nelson, but for the Kootenay region. It was truly the product of a dream that grew.

 

 


Capitol Theatre Nelson BC

The Capitol Theatre

421 Victoria Street, Nelson, British Columbia, Canada
Phone: (250) 352-6363 or Fax: (250) 352-6303
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