Inside the front lobby of the Ilo Ilo. Photo by Anthony Kerr

Group looking at options to save, restore historic Cumberland theatre

It opened as an opera house, then a movie theatre, and most recently served as an auction house before closing to the public in 2007, but a small group in Cumberland is hoping to bring life back to the historic Ilo-Ilo Theatre.

Earlier this month, an open house was hosted in the lobby of the theatre to discuss what the future holds for the facility, which was built in 1914, by E.W. Bickle.

An ad for the Ilo-Ilo highlighting its fireproof construction and seating for 500 people.

“There were four info sessions which were really intense community conversations that ranged from mournful and a sense of hopelessness to optimism, and everything in-between,” explained Allison Trumble, one of the people involved in co-ordinating the conversation for the future of the theatre.

The theatre, located on Dunsmuir Avenue in the village’s downtown, became a movie theatre during the silent film era, while the downstairs hall featured Saturday night dances with the Cumberland Symphony Orchestra.

It was rebuilt following a fire in 1932 and continued to show films until 1957. The last film shown was These Wilder Years with James Cagney and Barbara Stanwyck.

Throughout the past year, circumstances have changed for liaison Henry Fletcher (whose parents own the building), who began restoration work along with project manager Tim Patterson, but has placed the building up for sale. The building does not hold federal or provincial heritage status, and as such, new owners have no legal obligation to protect or restore the property to a working theatre (the site, including the adjacent lot’s one-bedroom home can be entirely repurposed if desired).

Trimble explained there is a group of people trying to figure out a way to move forward with the building.

“Ultimately our goal is to have the theatre open and used as a common space and whatever paths we can get to that would be ideal.”

She explained the building is structurally sound, with new electrical and other infrastructure, but added there is still a lot of work required to get the building up to current code. Additionally, should the building function as a theatre, there would need to be a sound system, screen, seats and a projection system installed.

Inside the Ilo Ilo auditorium following a small fire which began at the rear in the building in June 2012. Cumberland firefighters extinguished the fire immediately which did not cause significant damage. Photo by Erin Haluschak

There is no formal agreement in place with the owners to occupy, use, lease rent or apply for funds to renovate the building. Permission to occupy has been granted on an ad hoc basis and largely due to the participation of a family member in activities and conversations related to the building.

The building, lots and home are listed for sale by Sotheby’s International Realty out of Nanaimo for $1.25 million.

“There is a lot of emotional interest in the community – it holds a special place in the hearts of many people,” said Trumble, who said the group now is facing “critical decisions for governance” to decide how the group – and the building – should move forward.

“I don’t think we’re interested in sitting around waiting for a buyer; we like to take a more creative role in making a case for a community venue.”

Following a few meetings of the ad hoc group, three possible options have emerged based on the information received from the owners.

One is to ask the owners to take the building off the market, a society leases the building to recover owners costs, pursue long-term lease with the owners, which would allow them to apply for funds and fundraise to buy the property and building.

The second is to find a way to work in agreement with the owners/realtor to attract a suitable investor and work closely with the potential buyers to explore the viability of a renovation of the theatre, while demonstrating high community support.

The final scenario is to work independently from the owners and realtor on an ad hoc basis to attract a buyer for the property that reflects community desires.

For those interested in the Ilo-Ilo, visit the Facebook page or email IloIloTheatre@gmail.com.



erin.haluschak@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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