Nova Scotia

Oxford Theatre in Halifax to close Sept. 13 after 80 years

The Oxford Theatre, a cinematic icon in Halifax for 80 years, is closing its doors.

Cineplex of Toronto has sold building that houses iconic movie theatre

People line up outside Halifax's Oxford Theatre on April 15, 2017, for a showing of the movie Maudie. (CBC)

The Oxford Theatre, a cinematic icon in Halifax for 80 years, is closing its doors.

The owner, Cineplex of Toronto, announced Thursday the building that houses the theatre located at the corner of Quinpool Road and Oxford Street has been sold to a local business owned by the Nahas family, Nanco Group.

The developer plans to keep the building intact and turn it into a commercial and residential complex.

The historic movie theatre will go dark on Sept. 13.

"It was certainly not an easy decision to make. We share the community's love for the theatre and respect the role that it has played in the city's history," said Sarah Van Lange, a spokesperson for Cineplex.

'More than just a theatre'

Nanco president Norman Nahas knows how important the building is to the community. His family has owned neighbouring King of Donair since the early 1980s.

"I feel the sentiments of the people who are sad to see the theatre closing, everyone shares that," Nahas said.

"I grew up in the area, right around the corner, I went to school in the area and had businesses up and down on Quinpool Road for decades so I'm quite familiar with the significance of this site. It was more than just a theatre. It was a community point and icon on Quinpool."

The Oxford Theatre in 1957. (Nova Scotia Archives)

When the theatre opened in 1937, it was billed as a glamorous movie palace and cost 30 cents to see a film.

In recent years, the Oxford screened movies that might not be shown in multiplex cinemas, such as foreign and indie films, and developed a loyal audience.

It also reran classic films such as The Graduate, Gone With the Wind and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Many have fond memories of the movie theatre, including Carol Bruneau, who worked at the Oxford in the early 1970s.

"The fun that we had," she said Thursday. "Serving people, talking to people. We also got to see all the movies for free. I remember watching Jesus Christ Superstar about 25 times."

The current interior of the Oxford Theatre. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Just before the theatre's 75th anniversary, then-owner Empire Company Ltd. invested in a makeover that included renovating the auditorium.

In 2013, Empire, the parent company of grocery giant Sobeys, sold 24 of its Atlantic Canadian theatres, including the Oxford, to Cineplex. 

"Back in 1937, when the Oxford first opened, single-screen theatres were the norm but today there are multiplex cinemas that provide guests with choice and more amenities and more enhanced movie options," Van Lange said.

"A single-screen theatre and one that requires extensive renovations and the installation of new technologies, it just no longer makes sense."

Continue as a hub

After Cineplex has removed all its furnishings and equipment from the building, the development company will be able to examine the structure, Nahas said. The plan is to create a mixed use — commercial and residential — complex, maintaining as much of the original building as possible, he said.

"It underwent a few changes to its facade over the years, we'll peel it back to see what the original wall looks like, as well as the fixtures," he said.

"We definitely want to maintain the architectural style that it had. It's a very unique building and we will respect all of that as we go through the process."

He didn't have a timeline for the construction or completion.

"We're looking now for some good anchors in it … in terms of continuing to have a hub there for the area, for the next generations. We want to definitely pay homage to it, to the history of it."

Special week of screenings

As a farewell, a special week of programming featuring screenings of iconic films that have played at the Oxford over its eight decades is planned.

The screenings will run Sept. 8-13. They will feature fan favourites like Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Wizard of Oz, E.T., Grease and Titanic.

Tickets to all screenings will be $4.99, with proceeds going to the IWK Foundation. Some of the screenings had already sold out by Thursday morning.

With files from Paul Palmeter