Saturday, April 16, 2022

385 Henderson Highway - Roxy Lanes

© 2022 Christian Cassidy

Place: The Roxy Theatre, Roxy Lanes
Address: 385 Henderson Highway (Map)
Architect: Max Zev Blankstein
Opened: December 24, 1929

The roots of the Roxy Theatre date back to Jack Miles and his Palace Theatre on Selkirk Avenue which opened in 1912. He soon went into partnership with Nathan Rothstein to create Allied Theatres and by end of the 1920s they added The Roxy (on Henderson), The Rose (on Sargent), and The Plaza (on Marion). In 1931, The Uptown (on Academy) made it a chain of five.

Miles' go-to architect for his theatres was Max Zev Blankstein who designed at well over a dozen venues in Manitoba and Saskatchewan throughout his career. (Including the Tivoli on Maryland and likely the Garry in Selkirk.)

December 21, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune

The Roxy was built in 1929. Curiously, its construction was said to have been supervised by Mr. Battershill of the East Kildonan engineering department. This would have been too early for it to be a civic Depression Relief project, but perhaps it was an amenity that the Municipality of East Kildonan wanted so badly for its residents that they offered up Battershill's labour to sweeten the pot.

An advertorial that appeared in the Tribune on December 21st noted that the Roxy could hold 1,200 people, boasted a $22,000 sound system, and had the latest Simplex projectors.

The Roxy was billed as an "atmospheric theatre". This movement became popular in the U.S. in the late 1920s and meant that the theatre's interior was designed to give patrons the impression that they were sitting outside under the stars watching a  film. This was done by implanting "stars" in the ceiling plaster and projecting clouds onto it. Also, "the walls are exteriors of quaint Spanish houses with sloping tile roofs, windows daintily curtained and lightened."

Blankstein would take his experimentation at the Roxy to the next level when he designed the Uptown and its "Moorish courtyard" the following year.

January 4, 1930, Winnipeg Free Press

The theatre opened just in time for a Christmas Eve showing of "Why Leave Home" starring Sue Carol and Nick Stuart.

Starting the first week of January, the Roxy began advertising free parking with free use of the heater plugs in the lot adjoining the building. A uniformed attendant was on-hand to assist.

January 22, 1949, Winnipeg Tribune

Neighbourhood theatres had to be flexible to survive. many, even those built as movie houses, usually had a small stage at the front so that it could be a stage for hire.

The Roxy hosted countless recitals, public speeches and other live events throughout its life.

The 1950s were tough for neighbourhood theatres as television established itself as the entertainment media of choice and downtown theatres were retrofitted as full-time cinemas. Some chains folded and merged to try to weather the storm.

The Roxy became part of the Associated Theatres chain, still controlled by the Miles Family, and with its collection of sister neighbourhood theatres participated in weekly promotions like Foto-Nite and rented itself out as a bingo hall on Thursdays.

May 20, 1960, Winnipeg Tribune

The final film shown at the Roxy is likely indicated in the above ad which ran on Friday, May 20, 1960.

Disney's Sleeping Beauty and four cartoon reels were the following day's matinee with Wild Heritage starring Will Rogers as the evening fare.

Starting May 27, classified ads appeared in the Free Press that stated simply: "Wrecking Roxy Theatre, free firewood, EK"

December 2, 1960, Winnipeg Tribune

The Roxy Theatre reopened as the 5-pin, 20-lane Roxy Lanes on December 3, 1960. It was a golden era for bowlers as the Roxy, Uptown Lanes in the refurbished Uptown Theatre, and Windsor Lanes all opened in a matter of a few months.

In 2009, Robert and Melissa Gauthier purchased Roxy Lanes. Robert died on February 10, 2022, and on April 13, 2022, the company announced on its Facebook page that: "...we have made the decision to sell our property. April 30, 2022 will be the last day for bowling. I would like to thank the great community of Elmwood and surrounding areas for all the support throughout these years."

It is unclear what the future holds for the Roxy.

Roxy Lanes could face wrecking ball CBC Manitoba

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