Empire Theatres Victoria

805 Yates Street,
Victoria, BC V8W 1M1

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DavidDymond on June 1, 2014 at 8:40 am

Famous Players Canadian Corporation went all out in the construction of this CAPITOL Theatre!! The first manager was veteran showman Jack McRae — whose family owned lots of property in the Victoria area.

telliott on June 1, 2014 at 8:02 am

Thanks Jason! One of the most unique and modern movie theatres I have seen anywhere. Can’t believe it’s gone. Interesting that here and in Vancouver they chose to demolish and rebuild both Capitols rather than divide up in to multiple cinemas like they did in so many other cities. I’m glad they didn’t. This one is stunning.

Jason Whyte
Jason Whyte on June 1, 2014 at 4:01 am

Added nearly 40 photos to the gallery, including scans of the 1981 grand opening and construction, along with an old photo of the original Capitol.

Consider the Capitol 6 gallery complete! Enjoy.

Jason Whyte
Jason Whyte on April 5, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Thanks Herman and Tim for your comments. Gallery is now complete! Please comment, leave questions etc.

This was a LOT of work to put each image up one at a time, and there were also a few areas I didn’t cover like the roof, bathrooms etc. I also removed a few of my original set of photos so they wouldn’t duplicate. (Please also note Hailee’s excellent set of photos for when she used to manage there.) One area I WISH I covered was the maze-like, concrete exits from each auditorium. You would exit into a cold, quiet, sterile set of staircases leading you to a gigantic concrete street level exit on both Yates and View street sides. People usually never exited this way and rather chose to head back down the circular ramp to the exit doors, which always gave you a nice view of downtown as you left.

And although I agree with Herman on the uniqueness, in many ways this place shares a lot of similarities with Capitol 6 Vancouver. Same types of seats, carpeting and screen sizes. Cinema #2 here had about the same screen size as the behemoth Cinema One in Vancouver, although with half the seats (1,031 in Vancouver vs. 534 in Victoria). Many of the later Famous Players builds DID go to a standard just like Cineplex Odeon eventually did as well, just in a different way.

But anyway. Going through these photos reminded me of the power of this place; my childhood cinema which I still miss to this day. This was a place where I felt comfortable, safe and very welcomed to watch a movie in. I fell in love with movies here as well as the Odeon (which is still going strong as I have said many times before).

Yes, the theater never upgraded to stadium seating but it WAS on the cutting edge of technology. It was the first Victoria theater to have all Dolby Stereo later in the 80s (many of the screens were mono to start). It ran 70mm in the late 80s and early 90s. The first DTS installation was here. In fact, digital sound got a LOT of play here early on; screen #2 was Dolby when it opened in 1981, upgraded to SR in the late decade when 70mm played there, DTS was installed in the summer of 1994, then Dolby Digital a year later, then SDDS from about 1996 to early 1998. It was in this period of time that screen #2 had sound quality among the very finest out of any cinema I have ever been to in my life, even to this day out of attending hundreds of cinemas all over North America. The theater switched from SDDS back to Dolby Digital in early 1998 or so, mid-way through the six month engagement of TITANIC. Over the years, sadly, the sound quality didn’t live up to its heyday in the 90s, and over the years drivers blew and the volume had to go down, but even towards closing still sounded pretty good in comparison to new theaters.

Just to add again to the whole sight-line thing on Cinema #2; the theater had a row of only two seats on the left hand side of the auditorium on the aisle (again, I should have taken a photo of these heavenly seats but never did). As the room sat about 530+ people you would never, ever have anyone try to sit next to you, and when I did take a date to a movie here they were the perfect date seats. You could enter or exit from either side too.

I would ALWAYS watch a movie in these seats in #2. Perfect view of the huge screen, easy to duck in and out for a bathroom break or to see a manager or staff, and even if someone sat in front of you your view would not be compromised. It also sat right next to a power outlet so if I needed to charge my cell phone for whatever reason, I’d just plug it in, turn it to silent and it would sit right next to me for the duration of the movie. Everybody wins.

Thinking more about what Tim said months ago, I’d love for a new chain or company to come in and salvage it. Yes, the numbers were bad but with a little TLC it could be prosperous again. Just a simple reposition of the seats would take care of the sight line issue. The building just sits there and I know a lot of the equipment is still in there. Maybe one day…

hermangotlieb on April 5, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Thanks for posting all those pictures, it’s great to have an extensive photographic record of this theatre.

I really like the glass and brick architecture of this particular theatre that was very unique and different than any other multiplex theatre I’ve seen.

The current Silvercity brand theatres all use the same dull blueprint designs right across the country.

Jason Whyte
Jason Whyte on April 5, 2014 at 3:02 pm

As of right now just about to post the remaining lobby and exterior photos.

Cinemas 1, 3, 4 & 5 had very good sightlines due to the placement of the screen. I never had an instance, even as a kid, of someone blocking my view sitting infront of me. The same couldn’t be said about huge #2; it had pretty poor sightlines but I always liked sitting on the aisle seats which fixed that.

telliott on April 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Thanks Jason! Now I feel like I’ve actually been to the theatre to see a movie in all 6 auditoriums. I still think it’s a shame that someone couldn’t make this place work. Still looks too modern to be closed. And does every theatre have to have stadium seating these days. Too bad.

Jason Whyte
Jason Whyte on April 5, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Now uploading a massive set of photos of the ‘ol Capitol 6 to this page. These photos will include exterior, lower lobby, upper lobby, all six screens and projection. It is a bit of a chore since CT will only let you upload one photo at a time, but it will look great when done.

Jason Whyte
Jason Whyte on February 28, 2014 at 12:02 am

It was definitely a unique cinema in many ways. I will be uploading photos soon. A lot of them. So many in fact that it’s pretty much the reason. I took thousands of photos from many angles over the course of a few months to cover nearly all the bases.

But I’ll try to describe it. The street level entrance is a decent size. As you enter the box office is immediately ahead and a the lower lobby featuring circular seating is to the left as you enter the doors. To the right was a rather large arcade called The Zone that was added in the mid 00’s when Empire took over.

Once tickets are purchased from either the box office, ABO’s or the Zone, you ascend a large circular ramp which takes you up above street level to the second story. While you ascend you can see above street level from a unique glass dome

Once you arrive at the top of the ramp, your ticket is taken there by an usher/supervisor. Now you are on the second level where all the auditoriums are. Immediately when you get to the ramp, the first thing you will see is the largest cinema, #2, looking at you from two sets of double doors. Cinema #1, the smallest is immediately to the left of the top of the ramp. But upon first glance you immediately see Cinema #2 to your left, a small seating area to the right, and the remaining cinemas stretch an entire city block from #3 to #6 on the left hand side. Concession bar is directly across from Cinema #3 on the right hand side. Above the concessions on a separate floor (accessed by two sets of twisting staircases on both sides of the concession) is the main sets of men and women’s washrooms. There was also a handicapped washroom, slightly hidden across from cinema #5 as well. A generous sized lobby extends all the way down the city block length of cinemas, and at the end there is also a nice set of glass partitions that overlook Blanshard and View street as well.

You can get an impression of the place from my initial set of photos along with Hailee’s set, but I’ll be getting up the full set which will truly show what the place is like. I will also likely delete the original photos I posted. This will take a LONG time as CT only allows one photo up a a time, but I promise I will do it!

This was in many ways a sister theater to the Capitol 6 in Vancouver. Similar carpeting, seating, earth tones and screen sizes in many of the cinemas. Of course I have explained its closing before in detail and understand it’s just a reality of the times, but of course I still miss the many movies and friendships I made there over the years.

telliott on February 27, 2014 at 9:12 pm

What was the layout of the theatre Jason? Seems like a very unique design. Were all of the cinemas on one level? Did you have to use that ramp to enter the cinema level? I really wish I had the opportunity to have seen a film there and to experience the theatre like I did the Capitol 6 in Vancouver.

Jason Whyte
Jason Whyte on February 27, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Odeon simply got better bookings and Capitol got whatever was left over. Capitol got more kid-friendly pics but those play much better at Silvercity and Westshore.

With Capitol closed I’ve noticed that many saturated-release movies are JUST opening at Silvercity now.

I’m still meaning to put up the rest of my Capitol photos but I have much better shots of every single cinema. #2 and #6 were beautiful rooms but tiny #1, #3-5 were more victims of bad 80’s auditorium design and #3-5 especially were like bowling alleys with tiny screens sitting above oddly placed exit doors.

But at least Cinema #2 (pictured in profile) still has my heart. Over 500 seats and a huge screen, and was also a screen that debuted a lot of sound formats. It played 70mm mag in the late 80’s and in the 90’s it was the debut Victoria cinema for DTS (early 1994), Dolby Digital (1995) and even SDDS was in there for about a year (1997-1998) and #2 in that decade had the best cinema sound I have EVER heard. Only the sight lines were a bit tricky at times but I had a favorite pair of seats near the back corner that fixed that.

telliott on February 27, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Interesting how the Odeon across the street is still going strong, yet no one went to the Capitol 6. Looks great to me. Wonder what the difference was? There are always enough films to go around.

Jason Whyte
Jason Whyte on February 27, 2014 at 12:44 pm

No one was coming to see a movie here. Attendance was awful and there was so much repair and maintenance needed that even a chain like ML wouldn’t probably get the numbers back up to make it profitable. Even Landmark didn’t want it (but they did take over University 4 when Empire closed up).

Unless a totally new, ultra modern megaplex goes in here I don’t see another cinema ever opening up. Odeon across the street is still going strong, however.

telliott on February 27, 2014 at 7:44 am

What a beautiful theatre. Sometimes I wish this era of big box megaplexes never happened, we’ve lost dozens and dozens of perfectly fine theatres that would have lasted for years to come in another time. I can’t imagine why the Capitol 6 could not make a go of it with another company, say Rainbow / Magic Lantern or Landmark.

Jason Whyte
Jason Whyte on February 26, 2014 at 11:39 pm

I noticed that too on a recent walk by the cinema. In fact I am sure most of the seats/screen etc are still there, but all the other stuff is long gone.

I wish I could get in there to see the damage but my main contact for the cinema turned over his keys ages ago. No way of getting in there now.

I will also start uploading my photo set from closing week soon. In the meantime there’s also a great set of photos from Hailee when the place used to run 35mm!

hermangotlieb on February 26, 2014 at 6:50 pm

I walked by the Capitol 6 the other day and peered in the window. Oddly enough, the place looked completely intact as if it was just closed for the evening.

The ATM and ticket machines were even still in place.

The only sign it was closed were all the dead leaves from the plants that were left to die in the lobby.

Usually these theatres are completely stripped clean within just a couple of days of closing.

Hailee on January 23, 2014 at 3:14 pm

I was a Manager here 2006-2009, I loved this building, sad to see it go.

DavidDymond on October 18, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Jason, well said. The original manager of this theatre was a veteran Famous Players manager from Victoria whose family owned lots of real estate and property in the Victoria area. When I get his name I will post it!

Jason Whyte
Jason Whyte on October 18, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Attended the last night of shows on Thursday and it was a very bitersweet evening. Small crowds at each screening and some staff and old managers came to visit. I stayed there with my camera, snapping some last photos before leaving about midnight. Like David said, this opened in the summer of 1981 and aside from some renovations (replacing the dome over the entrance was a big one) changes in carpet, seating and concession area not much about the place had changed. It was a well preserved museum of 1980’s multiplex moviegoing.

This theater will very likely be demolished as Empire is selling it as real estate. There is also a huge parking lot behind the cinema that can also be used for a new development.

I would have loved for Magic Lantern to come in and take over the cinema, but it has an incredible amount of $$$ needed for repairs and renovations, and the attendance has been so low for so long that I don’t think anyone could make a go of it, really. I was in Toronto recently for TIFF and liked what they did with the Carlton, and the Market Square cinema was an excellent visit.

DavidDymond on October 18, 2013 at 9:13 am

This CAPITOL THEATRE was opened by Famous Players Canadian Corporation in 1981.

telliott on October 18, 2013 at 8:25 am

Jason, do you think that Rainbow / Magic Lantern could make a go of it? They recently took over another Empire reject, the Elgin Mills in Richmond Hill, opening in November.

ScreenClassic on October 17, 2013 at 11:19 pm

I’d sure like to see the 1981 construction and opening day photos (and perhaps opening day ads from the Times Colonist archives too, if available) once they get posted with the other photos. It’ll give us an insight into what the Cap 6 was like in its early years.

telliott on October 16, 2013 at 11:59 am

The movie going business is very strange indeed. Here in Toronto, Cineplex moved in to the former Empire Empress walk and closed their perfectly lovely Sheppard Centre. With the thousands of condos under construction right in that area, you would think it could support a theatre with more than 10 screens!