Winnipeg's Met Theatre set to reopen

Winnipeg's Metropolitan Theatre is finally ready to reopen and embrace the next chapter in its 93-year history.

After spending the past 25 years shuttered and with an uncertain future, the newly-named Metropolitan Entertainment Centre will open its doors Friday evening for an exclusive, invitation-only evening gala.

Vacant since 1987, the Met was purchased in 2006 by the Canad Inns hotel chain, which had considered some type of entertainment venue featuring a Manitoba rock and roll hall of fame.

Canad Inns has invested $20 million to return the building to its former glory.

"I think the ingenuity of this is that the main portion of the Met really has been restored to the grandeur of a bygone era," Canad Inns CEO Paul Robson said Friday.

The centre, which will have three kitchens, a rooftop patio, and be available for bookings and special events, should open to the general public in about two weeks.

Built in 1919, the neo-classical style, the 24,000-square-foot building featured twin staircases leading to a large mezzanine level, a domed plaster ceiling and massive chandelier, 2,500-seat auditorium with stage and orchestra pit.

The building also had a series of large, round-headed windows at the second-storey level, wrought-iron faux balconies at the windows, brick walls with pilasters and carved stone inserts, and ornate plasterwork throughout.

Designed by prominent American theatre architect C. Howard Crane, it was originally named the Allen Theatre and was one of the first of the large, opulent movie palaces built in Canada.

It remains one of four surviving movie theatres in Canada built by the Allen brothers, who competed with Famous Players Theatre chains for supremacy in the film distribution industry in Canada.

The Allen empire collapsed in 1923 and many of its theatres, including the Metropolitan, were taken over by Famous Players.

That year, the Metropolitan Theatre was given its new name and welcomed with a grand re-opening.

Virginia Griffiths said she remembers going to the grand theatre when she was a little girl, accompanied by her grandmother.

"Brings back good feelings, and right now I think we need good feelings," Griffiths said.

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