Le Théâtre Capitole is part of the historic district of Québec City. It is the only urban district in North America registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Through two distinct declarations, both the federal and provincial governments have granted the building special heritage classification in recognition of its exceptional qualities. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recognized Le Théâtre Capitole’s exceptional significance in 1986. In 1984, the ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec classified the building’s interior, including the great 35-stop organ’s mechanisms and console.
Le Capitole is one of fifteen buildings in Québec’s historic district that are recognized as national historical monuments along with The Fortifications of Québec, the Citadel, Artillery Park and the Cavalier du Moulin. Le Capitole is also part of a list of some 50 buildings in this district which are classified as superior buildings. This list includes, among others, the House of Montcalm, the Québec Seminary and the Maison des Ursulines.
Among the buildings of Québec City and its historic district, le Capitole is the only theatre hall which has managed to preserve its original architectural style and main decorative elements. In this sense, it is an exceptional witness to the transition from true theatre hall to auditoriums converted into movie theatres. The transformation of the theatre in 1927 represents one of the more successful fusions of two styles: one of Louis XIV inspiration, the second by the Adams brothers.
In the Québec City metropolitan area, Le Capitole is the only standing example of the grand yet versatile theatre halls built between 1900 and 1930. Of all those erected during this time, it remains the finest architectural example perfectly blended into its surroundings.
In Québec, it is among about twenty theatre halls built between 1890 and 1930. Thanks to its original seating capacity, it ranked as one of the largest of its kind. It is also one of the few to have maintained its versatile calling until the 1980s.
In Canada, it is part of the fifteen or so luxurious urban theatre halls built or refurbished in the 1920s by NewYork architect-consultant, Thomas W. Lamb, for large American chains such as Loew’s, Keith-Alber and Famous Players.
In North America, it is the only example of a theatre hall which draws inspiration from both the Beaux Arts and Second Empire styles, brilliantly blended into a small urban setting.
Our story begins in 1903, when a new playhouse is completed in Quebec City. Designed by American architect Walter S. Painter, the theatre hall is known as the Québec Auditorium. Making the most out of the narrow lot, Painter creates an impressive yet harmonious facade. Painter demonstrates his concern for appropriately blending his work into the limited space, and develops a plan divided into three distinct parts, joined together by a corridor, and built around a central foyer. The building is relatively modern for its day, inspired by the Beaux Arts architectural style, and borrowing later ideas from the Second Empire style. The layout of the monumental façade and choice of exterior ornamentation are typically classical in style.
In 1927, New York architect-consultant Thomas W. Lamb is given the mandate to design the renovation project. He is considered America’s premier authority in cinema and theatre hall design. He oversees construction of no less than sixteen theatres across Canada at the time. Québec architect, Héliodore Laberge is designated to draw up the plans and estimates for the project. They will considerably change the Auditorium’s interior, modifying the rear and central areas of the building to accommodate the growing North American demand for high-class movie theatres. With its new architectural look, the building is renamed “Le Capitol” in 1930. A name which it will keep to this day, changing only slightly throughout the years, reflecting its increasing versatility: cinema, theatre, restaurant… It is essentially the same building we inherit today.
Decline… and restoration
Le Théâtre du Capitole complex begins its slow decline around 1970, a time when the City of Québec launches major upgrades to its infrastructures. This overhaul leads to the destruction of the old Place D’Youville and the construction of the Grand Théâtre de Québec.In 1992 Le Capitole is meticulously restored to its former glory.
Nearly A Century Of Culture
In many ways, Le Capitole bears witness to an exceptional popular cultural experience. Throughout its 80 years of existence, it has seen the arrival of silent movies, and the inevitable adjustments required as movies began to feature sound in the 1930s. The building’s versatility allowed for a wide range of presentations from traditional theatre to silent and talking films, as well as shows, opera, vaudeville, music hall, concerts and galas.
Celebrities such as Gérard Philippe, Louis Jouvet, Yves Montand, Maurice Chavalier and Gilbert Bécaud all graced its stage during the 50s. This is where Alfred Hitchcock held the world premiere of his movie I Confess. The movie’s stars, Anne Baxter and Montgomery Clift, as well as Canadian Prime Minister Louis Saint-Laurent were in attendance.
Prizes And Special Honours
Honour Certificates from the Commission d’urbanisme et de conservation de Québec
In 1993, the Commission d’urbanisme et de conservation de Québec held the sixth edition of its gala honouring excellence in conservation. Le Capitole de Québec won two of the eleven prizes awarded to businesses recognized for their excellence in building and renovation projects.
Public’s choice and special prize from the Commission
With a vote of 60%, the public chose Le Théâtre Capitole for the quality of its aesthetics and successful integration with the environment. Furthermore, the firm Denis St-Louis, architectes, drew additonal honours to Le Capitole as recipients of the special prize of the Commission.
Monday, February 21st, 1994, 5 p.m. (International Heritage Day)
Inauguration of a commemorative plaque from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada celebrating Le Théâtre Capitole’s historic and architectural importance.
The dramatic curved facade of this theatre in the Beaux Arts style evokes the exhuberence of the Grand Theatres of the Edwardian era. Designed by Walter S. Painter, and originally named the Auditorium of Québec, the Capitole opened its doors in 1903. In 1927, the renowned American architect Thomas W. Lamb and architect Héliodore Laberge of Québec modified the interior, incorporating a deep balcony and a rich classical décor typical of the period. After a decade of neglect, the building was rejuvenated and in 1992 once again resumed its historical artistic vocation.
The Historic Theatre Preservation Award
The League of Historic American Theatres, based in Washington, presented the Historic Theatre Preservation Award to Le Théâtre Capitole in recognition of its exemplary restoration efforts. This prestigious prize was presented during an award ceremony held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, on June 19th, 1994.
Mention of Excellence in Architecture 1993
The Ordre des architectes de la Province de Québec honoured architects and clients who have distinguished themselves over the last year through their contributions to the landscape of Québec. The goal is to recognize the architectural projects with the most merit. In addition to five prizes for excellence, the jury awarded eleven honourable mentions to the best projects from each category. The jury awarded Le Théâtre Capitole an Honourable Mention for Commercial Architecture for its authentic restoration design and respect for the historic building it helped bring back to life. Le Théâtre Capitole combines the vintage feel with new additions such as the hotel’s lobby, which charmed the jury with its freshness.