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City moves ahead with plan to designate Westdale Theatre as a heritage building

The city is going to inspect Westdale Theatre to potentially designate it as a heritage building, and will let the theatre's owners know of this plan in a letter later this month.

The Westdale Theatre was built in 1935

The Westdale Theatre is the last single-screen house in Hamilton. It opened in 1935 and was "the first Hamilton theatre built for sound." (Hamilton Public Library)

The city will inspect Westdale Theatre to potentially designate it as a heritage building, and will let the theatre's owners know of this plan in a letter later this month.

Hamilton heritage officials will inspect the 1935 theatre to see if it's worthy of a heritage designation, likely in 2018. If the designation happens, it will make the theatre – Hamilton's last single-screen theatre and the first "built for sound" – harder to modify or demolish. 

Residents are increasingly worried about the fate of the theatre, said Aidan Johnson, Ward 1 councillor. He's made several attempts to meet with the owners to find out their plans, and pushed the city to move ahead with the designation anyway.

"People want the Westdale protected and well used," Johnson said after a planning committee meeting Tuesday, when city councillors voted to move ahead.

Designating the Westdale, he said, has "a huge amount of community support."

The theatre at 1014 King St. W. is two levels and has an art deco architectural style, the city said in a report. Hamilton architect William James Walsh designed it.

"We have utilized every modern device to add to your comfort and amusement," reads a program from the September 1935 opening. That includes "Dunlopillo seats, the latest air condition, R.C.A Victor Photophones High Fidelity sound reproduction and the scientifically designed non-reflecting screen."

The theatre, the program notes, is "the first Hamilton theatre built for sound."

Under the new plan, city staff will examine the building's cultural heritage attributes, likely by examining the public areas if the owners don't participate.

With Tuesday's vote, the city will add the theatre to its long list of properties to inspect. If it's found to be worthy of designation, then city councillors will vote to ask it be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.

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