39 King St. East, Oshawa, ON
Opened April 4th, 1940, Oshawa’s Biltmore Theatre may have been the original of 5 Ontario theatres in the chain commissioned and built by the Okum Brothers of Toronto.
Originally with 699 seats, it was the smallest of the Biltmore Theatres in Ontario. Designed by Webb, Blythe and Sproule in the Art Deco style, the original façade is believed to be still intact under numerous coats of paint and stucco.
Missing are the iconic Biltmore Sign with its neon and flashing lights and the clock parapet, however the original thermometer is still in place.
The façade is the strongest element of historical significance, and the intent is to restore to the original surface of white/off white natural and man made stone, recreate the Biltmore Sign with new lighting technology and recreate the clock parapet and the thermometer.
Only time and renovation will tell whether the original poster windows still exist, though it is believed that the glass block windows that adorned the Biltmore sign may be salvageable.
Like many Biltmore theatres, the interior had been remodelled for post film use as a music venue. While the seating has all been removed, the stage area remains, as well as the mezzanine with wings (possibly extended since original).
There is little of original historical significance left in the interior.
The Biltmore Theatre Chain
Biltmore Theatres were constructed by the Okum Brothers of Toronto. The first theatre, believed to have been Oshawa was on the cusp of Canada entering World War II, and with the exception of Kingston in mid 1941, construction ceased until after the conclusion of the War.
Other Ontario theatre locations included:
Kingston’s Biltmore Theatre opened August 27, 1941
Toronto’s flagship Biltmore Theatre, north of Dundas Street, was opened April 15, 1948 and had 929 seats. It showed double and triple features (1948-1977)
Sault Ste Marie’s Biltmore Theatre opened in 1948.
Kitchener’s Biltmore Theatre opened in December, 1949.
”The Biltmore was one of a series of theatres constructed by the affluent Okun brothers, who had made their fortune selling hats for ladies under the Biltmore brand. Upon the conclusion of World War II in 1945, various building restrictions and funding disparities, which had been in place to secure funding for the struggle overseas, were finally lifted. This period saw an explosion of building activity, as more money was available for construction, more prospective consumers were available to cater towards, and more time was available for distraction and entertainment.”
Generally, the Biltmore Chain was considered an independent theatre as opposed to the big chains developing at the time, and as such was a B movie theatre, seldom seeing new releases.
“The entire Biltmore group declined in the 1960s and several theatres, including Kitchener, were sold to the Odeon chain.
Oshawa’s Biltmore Theatre closed in 1969 but later operated as an Odeon, operating until 1989.
It is unknown what connection US Biltmore Theatres had to the Okun Brothers’ venture in Ontario.
Biltmore Theatre was awarded historical designation under the Ontario Heritage Act through a by-law of council on April 25, 2022, just past our 82nd birthday.
Biltmore Theatre will continue to advance exterior renovations consistent with the Heritage Designation and preservation of the Art Deco façade.
Interior renovations are complete to enhance the sound characteristics of the building to create a venue for production of live and live streaming music and entertainment.
There is no immediate intent to replace the current marque back to original design, though that may be a consideration in future.
Biltmore Theatre Corp will continue to offer programming and availability as Oshawa’s Premier Live Music and Entertainment Venue for both public and private events including concerts, corporate functions (AGMs, product launches, celebrations), weddings, and more.
Biltmore Theatre will remain an integral part of the downtown Oshawa community, economically, historically, and culturally.