Edmonton

Edmonton's Princess Theatre up for sale

The Princess Theatre, on Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona, was up for lease shortly into the COVID-19 pandemic. But Maxwell Commercial recently listed the city's oldest theatre again for purchase to the tune of $3.1 million.

City's oldest theatre has purchase price of $3.1M

The Princess Theatre, on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton's Old Strathcona neighbourhood, is up for sale. (© Scott Bruck/Shadow Box Studios Ltd.)

A piece of Edmonton history is up for sale — but the owners don't want the building's end credits to roll yet.

The Princess Theatre, on Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona, was up for lease shortly into the COVID-19 pandemic. But Maxwell Commercial recently listed the city's oldest theatre for purchase again to the tune of $3.1 million.

The Princess Theatre opened its doors in 1915, showing movies, vaudeville shows and concerts, and was noted as an architectural gem in Western Canada.

The theatre had to close in 1958. It stood vacant for years, then acted as a commercial space until Towne Cinema Theatres Limited bought the theatre outright in 1970. It reopened Christmas Day 1971 and was renamed the Klondike Theatre.

The Princess Theatre opened its doors in 1915, showing movies, vaudeville acts and concerts, and was noted as an architectural gem in western Canada.

The Princess Theatre changed hands since then — eventually getting its original name back — and, after a brief stint showing pornographic films, played classic films. Then, in 1996, the Brar family bought the theatre.

It became the oldest surviving cinema in Edmonton after the Gem Theatre, on Jasper Avenue, was demolished in 2006.

"Unfortunately, every time there was another shut down of the economy... those tenants had left. There wasn't very much help for the Brars in this business from the government during COVID," said realtor Ian Fletcher.

"That's why they are in a position where they would sell this building."

The pandemic and its toll on arts and culture businesses in particular have forced the Brar family, which still owns the theatre for now, to put the Princess on the market, said TJ Brar, whose father owns the building.

"It's definitely heartbreaking to have to say goodbye," Brar said.

"Our hope for a buy is someone who's willing to just retain the theatre's original function... in an effort to try and preserve the history and culture behind the building."

It could be a non-profit or private owner, as long as they want to keep the theatre's integrity, he added.

The Brar family, which has owned the theatre since 1996, wants the next owner to keep the building as a theatre. (© Scott Bruck/Shadow Box Studios Ltd.)

"It's an iconic part of Edmonton's history and a backbone of the theater community in general."

There are challenges that come with such a building though, Fletcher said.

It's old and requires renovation. The theatre's facade also holds historic designation, so a new owner would have to get permission from government to change anything, including windows, he explained.

Some have expressed interest in turning the building into a club or restaurant, which is already a non-starter for the Brars, Fletcher said. But even still, the sloped floor makes it tough to use the space for anything other than a theatre.

It is possible to turn it into a modern theatre, however. Fletcher noted the Plaza Theatre in Calgary, which the Brars leased, remains a theatre even after a major facelift.

With files from Emily Fitzpatrick

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