Mayfair Theatre owner surprised historic building up for sale

·2 min read
Lee Demarbre, owner of the Mayfair Theatre, says any talk of redeveloping the building housing his cinema flies in the face of the City of Ottawa's heritage designation of the building's exterior and interior. (Giacomo Panico/CBC - image credit)
Lee Demarbre, owner of the Mayfair Theatre, says any talk of redeveloping the building housing his cinema flies in the face of the City of Ottawa's heritage designation of the building's exterior and interior. (Giacomo Panico/CBC - image credit)

The owner of the Mayfair Theatre says he's been caught off guard by news that the historic building housing his cinema has been listed for sale.

"Some customer came in and told my partner there was a listing," said Lee Demarbre, owner and programmer of the Mayfair Theatre. "It was alarming for all of us that we found out this way."

The building, near the corner of Bank Street and Sunnyside Avenue in Old Ottawa South, was built in 1932 and also houses Quinn's Ale House pub and the Opus Barber Shop.

We can't be gutted. It has to remain a cinema. - Lee Demarbre, Mayfair Theatre

The listing posted by an Ottawa realtor states the Mayfair has one year left on its lease, and the rent the theatre pays "is way below market value." According to the listing, the space "can be converted easily to other shops and will definitely bring greater return once fully occupied."

The ad goes on to state that the property has a lot potential for redevelopment, and includes an asking price of $2,999,900.

CBC made several attempts to reach the listing agent on Wednesday morning, but has not heard back.

Giacomo Panico/CBC
Giacomo Panico/CBC

Heritage status inside and out

The Mayfair was designed as a Spanish Revival-style theatre intended to suggest the ambience of a Mediterranean plaza, and inside includes a painted ceiling, faux balconies and ornate plaster work.

Demarbre said whoever wrote the listing failed to understand that those features, and others, led to the building being granted official heritage status in 2008 by the City of Ottawa.

"We're protected on the outside and the inside," said Demarbre. "We can't be gutted. It has to remain a cinema ... that's what our heritage status states."

Under the Ontario Heritage Act, the property's owner would need city council's permission to alter or tear down the building.

Giacomo Panico/CBC
Giacomo Panico/CBC

A plaque honouring the building's heritage status is currently mounted on the building's southeast corner.

"I'd like to think it meant something," said Demarbre. "I like to the think that the City of Ottawa will protect the building."

He added that he has yet to speak with the property owner since news broke of the sale listing, and he's hopeful he'll be able to continue screening films and hosting events in the historic building.

"We're having a really good time running our cinema," said Demarbre. "We hope moving forward we can just keep running it the exact same way."

WATCH | Owner of Mayfair Theatre worried about future as building goes up for sale

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