A historic building that began as a movie theatre for oil workers and their families in the 1930s continues to serve Foothills citizens well as a ’50s-style burger joint visited by people worldwide.
The boomtown style building at 121 Centre Ave. served as a movie theatre, community centre, antique shop, candy and ice cream shop and today is Marv’s Classic Soda Shop.
The building was initially constructed in the 1930s in Little Chicago, otherwise known as the Royalites, as Mt. View Theatre and became a hit amongst families on Saturday nights.
Little Chicago was built for oil workers and their families just outside of Longview in the early 1900s, but once the oil reserves were depleted almost halfway through the century, the company, Royalite Oil, slowly closed down the community.
Many buildings were moved to Black Diamond to replace those lost in the great fire of 1949.
The theatre was moved to Black Diamond in 1952 by L.G. (Dusty) Bratten and purchased by the Black Diamond Community Centre Association to serve as the town’s community hall.
For almost 40 years it hosted dances, weddings and the odd fight, but in 1989 the building closed due to its poor structural condition.
Marv Garriott, who owns Marv’s Classic Soda Shop, recalls the building’s condition when he opened his first business in Black Diamond, a pizza place called Yum Yums in the 1990s.
“The building was condemned, it was pretty much a derelict building,” he said. “I could have bought it for $40,000 but I didn’t have the money. I knew it was good for something.”
Garriott, who was living in High River at the time, recalls holding an auction sale in the community hall, probably one of the last functions.
After closing, the hall stood empty for more than 10 years before brothers George and Peder Nielsen purchased it.
Garriott assisted the Nielsens in sprucing the building up through the Alberta Main Street Project that revitalized businesses along the town’s main street at the turn of the century.
“At that time there were a few buildings down here that were not doing real good,” he said. “There was a lot of buildings for rent. The main street revitalization improved the whole downtown. It brought a lot of business into town.”
Once the renovation work was complete, Garriott rented the building to open an antique shop called Diamond Treasures in the early 2000s.
“It still had the projection room up in the top and everything,” he recalls. “We had to tear all that stuff out. That’s just open space up there now.”
Garriott said the main level remained pretty much the same. He had expected a sloped floor from the old theatre, but learned many buildings in small towns were used for multiple purposes and that chairs were brought in for theatre nights.
When Garriott opened the antique shop, he was also operating an antique shop in High River with little success.
“When I opened the antique store I probably had more people in a day than I did in a week in High River,” he said. “I guess when they saw new stuff and the buildings start to look better and not derelict people start stopping more.”
Others rented space in the building as well, mostly to sell antiques, and when one of them left Garriott brought in ice cream to fill the space.
“Pretty soon the ice cream took over and food came in and as the food came in the antiques went out,” he said. “The call for antiques kind of died right out. We got out of it altogether and into the food in about 2007.”
Marv’s Classic Soda Shop has since become an icon in the community.
“We get so many people from all over the world here,” he said. “I’m always interested in talking to people and giving a bit of the history of the place and the town.”