Biltmore Theatre ready to bring the party back to Oshawa’s downtown
Published June 8, 2021 at 4:14 pm
When you walk into the Biltmore Theatre in downtown Oshawa you are instantly brought back to another simpler, and yet vaguely familiar time.
It’s 1940 inside these walls, and you can almost hear Glenn Miller and his big band up on the stage, while Frank Sinatra and Billie Holliday sip martinis in the upstairs lounge, awaiting their turn in the spotlight.
Outside, there is a war going on, but there is also a feeling amongst the populace that the rationing and the lockdown measures will be over one day and when that happens there will be one helluva party and why not celebrate at the Biltmore?
Almost like today, 81 years later, as workers put the finishing touches on the reborn theatre and concert venue on King Street East, right in the heart of Oshawa’s changing downtown core, while masked-up entertainment lovers out on the street anxiously await news of the end of the Pandemic.
Is it time to party like it’s 1945? Not yet. But hopefully, soon.
Opened April 4, 1940 as the first of five Biltmore Theatres built by the Okum brothers of Toronto and designed in the Art Deco style, it served as Oshawa’s downtown movie theatre until 1965. A couple of years later it re-opened as an Odeon, where it continued to show the films of the day until it closed in 1989.
The building was most recently home to the Music Hall – the city’s premier small concert venue – until the owners shut the doors last year, one month into the first lockdown. That’s when local entrepreneur Julius Kedvessey stepped in and bought the place, closing the deal last September.
Kedvessey is no stranger to supporting live music projects, having owned Wasted Space on Celina Street for three or four years. He retained the building, which is now home to Brew Wizards, a gaming café and craft beer bar, for a few years as well until selling it recently to help finance the Biltmore project.
He is the man behind the idea of bringing the Biltmore back to its original glory, said Jeff Davis, the Biltmore’s Director of Communications.
“He believes in Oshawa,” Davis said. “He’s trying to make it a better community.”
The first thing the design team did when they took over the property was add some colour to the interior, Davis said, noting that the Music Hall’s colour scheme was black-on-black, presumably for light show purposes.
So red crushed-velvet curtains were added, and red and blue accents were scattered around the main floor.
Next up was the sound system, and a new PA system, amps and speakers and a soundboard were added, and Adamson Sounds Engineering of Port Perry was called in to “design the system for our needs.”
There is also a projection system that Davis claims is “every bit as good as the Regent Theatre” across the street.
With the technical stuff out of the way, the team turned their attention to the upstairs lounge area, and this is where their creative juices really started to flow.
It really does look like a 1940s-era nightclub up there, complete with art deco statues (including ‘Lady with Two Birds’), a sarcophagus that might or might not contain a real Pharaoh inside, a working Wurlitzer organ and a Baby Grand Piano, as well as other art deco touches from the era.
“We really wanted to give it a 40s lounge look.”
Davis said the focus of the business – once Covid restrictions are lifted – will be as a concert venue, and they are already booking live events for November. “But we are not limited to that.”
Everything from wine & cheese socials, business meetings in the lounge area and even small weddings and other private events will be on the table, Davis added, “and if you want to watch a spaghetti western, we can do that too.”
There’s only a very small kitchen on site, so events will have to be catered, Davis pointed out. “But we do have a popcorn maker and a hot dog roller and maybe we’ll even have soft pretzels,” he added with a grin. “It is a theatre after all.”
While they wait for the lockdown restrictions to be lifted. The venue is already open for business for live streaming events, with three of a planned ten events already in the can.
There is also more façade work outside in the works. The intent is to restore it to the original white/off-white stone, recreate the Biltmore sign with new technology and recreate the clock parapet and thermometer.
It is unknown if the original poster windows still exist under all the stucco and various coats of paint, but Davis believes the glass block windows that once adorned the sign may be salvageable.
For now, all the team can do is wait until the government says they can fully open for business.
“I guess this place has always been steeped in adversity,” he said. “In 1940 they had to open a theatre during a war, and now we’re trying to open during a pandemic.”
The Biltmore Theatre is located at 39 King Street East in Oshawa, between Albert and Mary streets.insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies