The O’Brien Theatre opened on June 25, 1930 to rave reviews about its superior sound system and beautiful, ornate interior. The opening movie was “Sally”, a comedy starring Marilyn Miller. Admission was 45 cents for adults and 20 cents for children. Patrons were led to their seats by an all-female usher staff. The theatre’s first manager was C. R. Harrison.
The theatre was owned and operated by Ottawa Valley Amusements, owned by Renfrew entrepreneur M. J. O’Brien. The Renfrew Theatre was part of a chain that included theatres in Arnprior (now once again associated with Renfrew), and Pembroke, Almonte and Carleton Place.
Well-known Ottawa architect Werner Knoffke designed the building. The Renfrew construction firm of M. J. Sulphur built the theatre for $50,000, a considerable sum in those troubled economic times. The design and materials blended well with the Opera House next door also owned by O’Brien.
Ottawa Valley Amusements continued to operate the theatre until 1968, at which time it was sold to others, resold in 1986 and again in 1993, at which time present owner Murray Adolph purchased the building.
At the time of the latter purchase, the theatre had been closed for three years. The building had deteriorated during this period; roof leakage and damage resulting from the failure of the heating system required the new owner to undertake extensive repairs/renovation, and the theatre re-opened on January 7, 1994 with the popular film “Mrs. Doubtfire’, with Robin Williams. This second opening, some sixty-three and one-half years later, saw admission prices rise to six dollars for adults and four dollars for children.
Subsequently, in 1995, the balcony became a separate theatre, adding to the selection of film product available to customers. Additional renovations and equipment upgrades continue to the present.
Today, in addition to popular current film, the theatre offers a series of art, independent and foreign films. A large theatre pipe organ, installed 1995-present, thrills audiences with periodic concerts and movie prelude music. (See OVTOS). There are occasional live performances.
The O’Brien Theatre maintains its grand presence on Raglan Street South, a testament to excellent design and construction of earlier times blended with modern technology. It remains an important centre of entertainment for the community.