Now that the hard work is over, the real hard work can begin. The transformation of Cranbrook’s venerable Armond Theatre into what will be a premier live music and performing-arts facility continues apace.
It has been just over a year since the historic downtown theatre, which sat empty and derelict for 20 years, was purchased by a partnership of three local entrepreneurs who set out to turn the 68-year-old building into a multi-purpose community arts centre. Casey Wright and Spencer Kerr (owners of Casey’s Roofing and Flashing), along with Ferdy Belland (local carpenter and musician), bought the building from Jean Trimble, who obtained the Armond in 2013 for similar purposes. The past year has been spent taking care of Phase Two of the operation (Phase One being the finalized purchase of the building), which involves the structural upgrades and hazardous materials abatement needed to bring the Armond Theatre up to modern public-occupancy requirements. With the abatement mostly complete, Armond co-owner Ferdy Belland is now able to offer a (masked and socially distanced) tour to a curious member of the media.
The lobby will feature a saloon-style bar where the concession stand once was. Washrooms remain located on either side of the entrance to the ballroom. The idiosyncrasies of the theatre design (a gradual upward slope to the stagefront) meant the ballroom’s main floor is raised a foot above the floor of the lobby. The current plywood subfloor (installed by previous owners) will be replaced by an engineer-approved hardwood dance floor. Side tables will be attached to the walls of the 1600 square foot space, with sound baffles mounted across the high walls to reduce unwanted echo. Belland says the entire renovation project is taking inspiration from the original Art Deco style of the original interior.
“The finished results won’t be an exact carbon-copy of what you see in the old photographs from the 1950s,” says Belland, “but we’re paying attention to fine detail with this, and the new Armond Theatre will have a style and beauty all its own.”
Ten feet above the main floor of the ballroom is the upper mezzanine balcony, an immense space unto itself, another 1400 square feet. Another larger ornate bar is planned for installation along the back wall of the balcony space, which will be used for fixed-table seating and potential standalone lobby events. The sides of the upper-level project out some distance along the wall over the ballroom floor. These will be converted into opera-style box-seats and give the upper-level balcony an extensive horseshoe shape.
“The structural engineers will tell us if our wild dreams can actually be built,” Belland quips. “In the meantime, we’ll keep dreaming. We need to be prepared in case Waldorf and Statler from the Muppet Show decide to attend an event.”
Altogether, the renovations will allow for a comfortable variable capacity of 200-400 people in the public spaces. The warren of rooms behind the balcony, where the projection booth used to be, will be used for office space and custodial storage. These rooms include the fireproof vault where the flammable celluloid film reels were safely kept.
The stage itself, formed from thick bunker-style concrete (like the entire building itself), is a respectable 40 feet wide and 16 feet deep, once the remaining cinema-screen framing is removed. Doors located high on the stage’s sidewalls have been present since the original construction, when the stage was also used for theatrical productions, beauty pageants, and public speaking events, aside from the Armond’s traditional cinematic programming.
The Armond Theatre is one of the few buildings in the Downtown Core wired for 400-amp service — plenty of power for whoever or whatever takes the stage. The interior design will incorporate dedicated acoustic engineering and will feature a state-of-the-art surround-sound and lighting system.
In the basement below the stage is the mechanical room, dominated dramatically by a huge vintage cast-iron boiler. Once the boiler is safely abated and removed (Belland and his partners plan to mount the locomotive-like face of the boiler in the lobby as funky heritage ornamentation), the leftover space will be converted to a Green Room for performers. Stairs will give quick access to the stage — there will be none of this satirical Spinal Tap business of getting lost trying to get to the stage from backstage.
But now it’s time for Phase Three planning of the Armond’s rejuvenation — the renovations and installations, including the floors, office spaces, lobby, the unique louvered ceiling from the cinema era (which will be kept intact), and the restored interior aesthetic, which Belland says will embrace Retro-Chic stylings: the coffered ceilings, the wooden wainscoting, the hardwood dance floor, the wall sconces, the velvet drapery, the gilded balcony area, among other exciting decorations.
Phase Four will be the actual opening of the Armond Theatre to the public, which is still some distance away. “That’s when the REAL work begins,” says Belland. “But with all the enthusiasm and excitement we’ve been receiving so far from the Cranbrook community, we’re more than confident that our endeavours will be well-supported.”
All things being equal, including the current pandemic restrictions and their eventual easing, Belland hopefully anticipates a tentative opening of early Summer 2022. Belland said a reborn Armond Theatre will help kick-start Cranbrook’s downtown nightlife back into high gear, with ripple effects benefitting established downtown businesses - hospitality, retail, and accommodations-wise. And once the pandemic is over, the desire for live music and mass public gatherings for entertainment, arts and culture will come roaring back exponentially.
“The Armond Theatre will assist in the ongoing efforts of the City of Cranbrook and the Downtown Business Association with downtown revitalization, heritage infrastructure restoration, tourism economy and civic pride,” he said. “Cranbrook will be exploding throughout the 2020s, and for the better — culturally and economically. We wish the Armond Theatre to be part of this positive upsurge.”