The future of the Chilliwack Paramount Theatre is indeed a complicated issue. The building is in need of costly upgrade and being a purpose built facility, will require great imagination and creativity to envision any potential adaptive reuse. How does a community place a dollar value on artifacts of heritage and significant cultural value?
The social health and stability of a community is tied to its sense of itself, and its history. Our past provides us with a touchstone to where we have come from and where we might be going. It is reassuring to us all to see vestiges of this past. It provides a sense of permanence in a world with ever increasing rates of change. A community that embraces within its urban fabric, both elements of the past and the future is richer.
The Paramount is not only a fine example of late-modernist Architecture, but of a Post-war cultural movement that saw iconic structures such as the Paramount, rising in communities across North America. It a member of a family of bold and modern structures that pointed to an optimistic, boundless future. Something that North America needed after years of war.
In Canada, and in particularly in British Columbia, our Architectural Heritage is fragile. The age of our built environment means that unlike European Cities we do not have a large stock of historic buildings, and many that have survived were built of wood frame construction which has suffered the ravages of time and our weather.
The Paramount Theatre represents for its age, a robust building of cast-in-place concrete and steel. It certainly is in need of upgrade to address issues of accessibility, building envelope and HVAC, but it has ‘good bones’ and the potential to continue providing meaningful heritage to our community.
Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges in the reuse of any building like the Paramount Theatre, is that it is a purpose built facility designed to accommodate motion picture audiences. There are many examples of other communities that have risen to this challenge and found new uses for historic buildings. In London England, a power station has been converted to a successful art museum. In Paris a railway station has also been converted to an art museum. In Halifax a period church has been converted to residential condominiums. Closer to home Chilliwack’s Fire Hall No One, now houses businesses which include the street front home of the Downtown BIA. Such reuse of historic and culturally significant buildings provides for a urban fabric that is richer, and also relevant to its citizens.
The City of Chilliwack’s Downtown Task Force has recommended that the City take a more active role in future development. A role that would see land assembly, and possibly assembly and caretaking of culturally significant buildings, while aggressively pursuing innovative development that is inclusive of our past.
The gift of the Paramount to the City of Chilliwack by Landmark Cinemas can be seen both as a burden, and also as the gift of an opportunity to do something unique, by incorporating a significant part of our past into a redevelopment scheme; ultimately making a richer and more diverse end product.
As we wait for the right development and reuse solution, temporary uses may be found for the Paramount. Our downtown doesn’t really need more voids in its urban form that resemble the missing teeth in it’s once smiling face.