Red Mill Theatre
80 James Street North,
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Previous Names: Red Mill Dinner Theatre, Tivoli Banquet Hall, Harvest Moon Banquet Hall
The Red Mill Theatre was a second floor cinema, that operated above a first floor penny arcade, between 1907 and 1924. The Tivoli Theatre opening less than a block away, was a likely reason for its closure, as the smaller cinemas found it difficult to compete for audiences.
Early twentieth century newspaper descriptions of the Red Mill Theatre, describe a glass staircase leading to the second floor auditorium, with water falls and live gold fish.
Although silent films were the main attraction of the Red Mill Theatre, there was a small stage and dressing rooms for vaudeville performers, who were also, often part of the bill.
During the teen years, the Red Mill Theatre was leased and managed by Dave Stewart, who also ran the Unique Theatre, another nickelodeon on York Boulevard, a few blocks away.
Manager Stewart, by the late-1920’s, took over the management of the Lyric Theatre on Mary Street, and ran it until 1940, when the Lyric Theatre, was purchased by Twentieth Century Theatres Inc, and renovated as the Century Theatre.
There was also an early nickelodeon, called the Red Mill Theatre on Yonge Street in Toronto, circa 1906, which later was called the Theatorium. Based upon this common name, I thank it was likely that they shared the same owners.
By 1925, according to Hamilton City directories, the former second floor cinema was being used as a union lodge hall.
During the 1940’s, and lasting for almost thirty years, the auditorium was used as a studio for teaching ballroom dancing. As part of this purpose, the small balcony area was removed, and a flat sprung floor was installed.
In 1977, a local theatre producer Bob Gibb, reopened the space as the Red Mill Dinner Theatre. It mainly produced small musical reviews, catered by the Tivoli Restaurant, which operated on the first floor, in the space originally operated by the penny arcade.
By the early-1980’s, the space was renamed the Randolph Rhodes Dinner Theatre, and comedies and farces became what was offered to the theatre going public.
After the dinner theatre closed in 1988, the Tivoli restaurant continued to use the space as a banquet hall. In 1998, the restaurant downstairs, became the Harvest Moon, and the upstairs hall was decorated with Chinese characters.
Despite all of these small changes, the beautiful hundred year old proscenium arch, with its two plaster boxes on either side, survived intact, until quite recently.
Tragically, an axe throwing business leased the second floor of the building in 2019, and the auditorium was gutted to the bare brick walls.
The physical space that the theatre once occupied, survives, but there is now nothing remaining of the building’s rich Edwardian era cinema architecture.
Many of Hamilton’s theatre buildings have been destroyed, over the years, but I will confess that the recent destruction of the interior of the Red Mill Theatre, is a loss that I have grieved the most in recent years.
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