September 18th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 38
Orpheum Theater forced to close it’s doors
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
David Selles Photo
Shaun and Allisn Wagner complete renovations inside the Orpheum Theater after purchasing the building in October of 2018. Less then a year later they now face forced closure of the theater due to the structural soundess of the roof. The theater has been a staple of the Crowsnest community for 98 years.
David Selles
Pass Herald Reporter
After 98 years in the Crowsnest Pass, the Orpheum Theater is being forced to shut down.

Italian immigrant Peter Umbertino was the first man to open a motion picture theater in the Pass.

Umbertino hired Enrico Pozzi as his contractor.

The theater opened on Wednesday, August 10th, 1921 and the first film shown was “Three Gold Coins” which was accompanied by a four-piece orchestra.

Over the years, the theater would host many different community events and activities on top of playing films.

The theater has also had multiple owners over the years, many of them having held onto the building for long stretches of time.

However, now the theater has seen it’s days come to an end.

Current owners Allison and Shaun Wagner, who have owned the theater for less than a year, have been told they are being forced to close for safety measures.

The Wagner’s had an inspection done on the building during the purchasing process and were told with the proper maintenance and repairs that the building would last another 30 plus years.

Due to the inspector missing such a large structural issue with the building, the Wagner’s are now seeking legal action.

“Previous to buying the property we got an inspection done. We needed the inspection done in order to get funding for the property. The inspector didn't do his job. He missed major structural issues and didn't even go onto the roof. We are working with the lawyers to go after this guy and we are sending in a statement of claim, which is the beginning proceeding of suing this guy because we want to keep our theater open,” said Allison.
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The Wagner’s tried everything they could to keep the theater open including bringing in an engineer.

“The reason why we ended up getting an engineer is we brought out a roofing company to bring us a quote on replacing the membrane on top of the roof because we knew it was leaking but we weren't expecting what we got. Even in the beginning report it does state that there is no structural issues with this building,” said Allison.

After all their efforts, Allison said a phone call ended all hope of staying open.

“The day before yesterday I got a phone call from the architect that is on the project. He is working with a structural engineer and with ASA Contracting. He said as soon as the first snow falls, even if it melts, we're shutting down. They don't want anybody in the structure just in case that roof collapses.”

Allison added that in order to stay on the good side of movie companies, she has to stop movies from coming in before the closure because if she were to stop a movie partway through, it could damage those relationships.

Allison says it could take some time before they receive any answers.

“The only thing we can do is go after him. Suing can take anywhere from six months to three years. To get us from this point to the point where they will actually do something, it's going to be a process. In the meantime, we have to find a way to pay the bills. Right now that's where we sit.”
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Allison says she has looked into other options for funds but was unable to come up with something that would ensure enough money to fix the building.

“The Alberta historical society does do a grant of up to $50,000 a year but it's once the work is done. So we'd have to fork out the money and then they'd reimburse us up to $50,000 depending on how many people are going after the same grant. It could end up being as little as $15,000.”

It’s been an extremely frustrating time for the owners.

“It's not fun. It's been a long process already, we've been working on this since last November and that's when we found out about the big mess. We didn't know previous to that at all because we wanted to get the roof done this summer and then all of it escalated.”

Allison said if they had known, they might have thought twice about buying but now they have no choice but to fight.

“We were completely unaware of everything. Most likely if we would've been aware, we wouldn't have bought the building. Especially with the costs involved. Now that we have the building all we can do is fight to keep it. It's going to be hard.”

Allison says that with all the history of the theater, it’s difficult to see what’s happening to it.

“This place is 98 years old. I would love to see this place still here. I know there's a lot of people in the community that still want it here. It's heartbreaking though because we've put everything into this place and all the sudden we're getting shut down. We're doing everything we can.”

The Wagner’s have received some support from the community throughout this process.

“I've been talking to a few people and they're saying if we need anything to let them know.”

Now all that’s left for the Wagner’s to do is wait and see what kind of results come from all this.
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September 18th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 38
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