39 King St. East, Oshawa, ON
Opened April 4, 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.
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.
With the possibility that 39 King St. E., Oshawa was the first Biltmore Theatre in Ontario and the original facade appears to be intact, the current owner is interested in designation as a heritage building of significance in Oshawa and Ontario.
We are requesting Heritage Oshawa prepare a heritage research report as soon as possible to support designation on the Heritage Oshawa Inventory as a Class A or B building. Dependant on that report, consideration should be given to provincial designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.
We are requesting that Heritage Oshawa support the plan to aesthetically recreate the Biltmore sign with updated technology lighting and electronics, as well as the parapet clock and replace the existing original but broken thermometer with a similar aesthetically recreated and modernized thermometer.
The owner intends to strip the layers of paint and stucco on the exterior facade back to the original natural and man-made stone finish and trusts that will meet Heritage Oshawa approval and support.
There is no immediate intent to replace the current marque back to original design, though that may be a consideration in future.
Interior renovations are in process or complete to enhance the sound characteristics of the building to create a venue for production of live and live streaming music and entertainment events as appropriate to restrictions in place regarding COVID 19 protocols.