Curtain call: a photographic series of images documenting the lost backdrops of Vancouver’s theatre history. Normally I don’t feature photographs, but in this case I’m making an exception. I’d like to focus on the backdrop artists themselves, but since they are a famously anonymous group, I’ll have to give credit where I can. Images are courtesy of the Vancouver Archives. Here’s a breakdown:
- The interior of the Vancouver Opera House, 733 Granville St (Item Bu P7)
- Columbia Theatre and company, 1920 (CVA 99-1379)
- Kiwanis Glee Club Capitol Theatre. Vancouver, B.C. December 16, 1922 (CVA 99-3439)
- St. George’s School play “Robin Hood” 1939 (CVA 805-26)
- Demolition of the Lyric Theatre, 700 block Granville St, 1969 (CVA 1348-37)
- Demolition of the Lyric Theatre (CVA 1348-37) (as above, closeup)
- Demolition of the Lyric Theatre, 700 block Granville St, 1969 (CVA 1348-36)
- Demolition of the Lyric Theatre, 700 block Granville St, 1969 (CVA 1348-39)
About image # 1, Sean Jung describes the Vancouver Opera House at cinematreasures.org:
The Canadian Pacific Railway built the Vancouver Opera House and was opened on February 09, 1891. It was adjacent to the first Hotel Vancouver on Granville Street between Robson and Georgia with 2,000 seats…in 1913, it was refurbished and named the Orpheum Theater. This would be the 2nd theater in the city to grace this name. (The first being the old Alhambra). It was briefly called the Vancouver Theater, then the Lyric, then International Cinema before reverting to the Lyric Theatre.
Regarding image # 2, the Columbia Theatre operated as a vaudeville theatre in the teens and 20s. It was located at 64 West Hastings, across the street from where the Paris Block is today. Once again, I asked resident expert Tom Carter to fill me in on some details about the Columbia. He mentioned that just to the (east) was the National theatre, which was even older. And get this - the National theatre actually started as the Cameraphone theatre! With research assistance from Andrew Martin at the VPL, we now know the Cameraphone opened November 30, 1908, but by July 6, 1909 the Vancouver World was announcing the National’s grand opening, so the Cameraphone didn’t last long! : ) About the technology, Tom writes:
Cameraphone was a New York company that offered early sound-synchronized films and built purpose-built theatres around North America to display them. This beats the film The Jazz Singer (1927) by almost 20 years and it’s amazing Vancouver was chosen as a location for such cutting-edge American technology. We also had the Hales Tours so it seems we were seen as a viable market for state-of-the-art back then.
Also located just a bit further east was the new Pantages aka Majestic Theatre at 20 West Hastings St.
Back to the Columbia theatre, Tom tells me it actually had 3 levels of opera boxes; 9 boxes on each side - 18 in total! The Columbia, along with the National were converted into retail space with offices above in the early 1930’s. They survived together as Wosk’s until the 1980’s. Currently, there’s a big empty parking lot where the Columbia and National once stood, but the site is slated to become a community garden. The eventual plan is for a new PHS complex of housing and retail.
What can I say about image # 3, the Kiwanis Glee Club at the Capitol Theatre? It was taken on December 16, 1922, just 2 months after the Harold Lloyd comedy Grandma’s Boy would have played at the very same theatre (October 2-7, 1922). Zoom into the original image and you can see the pipe organ in the centre of the stage, a relic of the silent film era!
I love everything about image # 4, the 1939 photo of the cast of Robin Hood, donated in 2008 by Nigel Toy, St. George’s School Headmaster. Nigel retired from St. George’s School in June of 2010. Thanks for the donation, Nigel!
The images of the Lyric Theatre demolition are the most heart-breaking; to see the once magnificent backdrops used as demolition curtains is enough to bring tears to my eyes! Previously known as the Vancouver Opera House (image # 1), it was renamed the Lyric Theatre in 1937. The demolition made way for the Pacific Centre in 1969. The Vancouver Archives website indicates that the photographs were taken by Nicholas Russell, and they include this brief bio:
Nicholas Russell lived in Vancouver’s West End in 1968. He was very concerned about the demolition of the older wooden houses in the West End and photographed many houses that are no longer in existence today. Later he was president of the Archaeological Society of B.C. and Heritage Regina. He now lives in the James Bay area of Victoria.
This entry has been cross-posted to Vancouver Is Awesome with alternate text. For further reading, see also Miss604’s recent post compiling exterior images from a good number of Vancouver’s theatres.
I’m taking a hiatus for a while, so please excuse the impending pause in the action. If you happen to discover some breaking new art while I’m away, or if you accidentally uncover some great unknown anecdote from the city’s art history, please don’t hesitate to let me know! Till we meet again!