Kensington's historic Plaza Theatre set to reopen after renovation

·2 min read
This seating area is part of a new cocktail bar inspired by Dobrowolski's West African heritage. (Ose Irete/CBC - image credit)
This seating area is part of a new cocktail bar inspired by Dobrowolski's West African heritage. (Ose Irete/CBC - image credit)

The Plaza Theatre, an iconic independent movie theatre in Calgary's Kensington district, will finally reopen to the public on Friday after a long hiatus brought on by the pandemic.

The Plaza was established more than 85 years ago. In September 2020, the historic theatre went up for lease, its future uncertain as the COVID-19 pandemic thinned audiences worldwide.

That hiatus will come to the end with the newly renovated space welcoming Calgarians back to the movies.

"It was really great to be able to do it," said Fatima Dobrowolski, the new long-term lease holder. "We've had unprecedented support from the community, from neighbours. Everyone seems to love the Plaza and seems to be rooting for us."

Ose Irete/CBC
Ose Irete/CBC

As a long-time lover of the Plaza, Dobrowolski said she wanted the renovations to focus on the experience of coming to the movies.

That means the new Plaza has been renovated to serve as a sort of "community hub" — complete with an all-day café and bar.

"That way patrons can show up, congregate a bit earlier, have a drink, have food from the café or the food truck," Dobrowolski said. "They're able to take their food and drink into the theatre itself, and then have a place to download and talk about what you've just seen."

Ose Irete/CBC
Ose Irete/CBC

When it comes to renovations of the screening room itself, Dobrowolski said plans are still in the works — but renovating the building and the concession area was the first order of business.

"Our budget wouldn't allow for that in one go," Dobrowolski said.

Ose Irete/CBC
Ose Irete/CBC

It's important to Dobrowolski that Calgarians coming back to the Plaza still feel a sense of familiarity.

"We've come across people who said this was the first place they saw a film. Some people got married here," Dobrowolski said.

"We love its historic standing in the local community, and we hope with these upgrades it makes the Plaza survive and people can continue to build memories here like they did before."

Ose Irete/CBC
Ose Irete/CBC

Kelly Mandeville, general manager of the Plaza, said when she finished school, the theatre was the first place she ever screened a film she had worked on.

"That's kind of what attracted me to the space. I had a chance to work on something that I was invested in and that I wanted to save, not for myself but for everybody that I know," she said.

A food truck will be located permanently outside, with a rotating residency to feature local restaurateurs.

The Plaza kicks off its reopening on Friday night with showings of Belfast and Dune.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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