The grand old girl of Vancouver’s Theatre Row turns 90

Party Like It’s 1927: The Orpheum Turns 90

Nov. 24, 7:30 p.m. | The Orpheum

Tickets and info: from $19, vancouvercivictheatres.com/events/orpheum-90/

Most Vancouverites can’t even imagine Granville Street without the Orpheum Theatre. And as befits a much-loved survivor of Vancouver’s once famous Theatre Row, celebrations are planned as the grand old space turns 90 this year.

Actually Hastings Street was Vancouver’s first Theatre Row. Before the First World War it was home to theatres both grand (like the Beacon and the Empress) and less prepossessing (like the Rex and the Princess).

Following the westward spread of downtown, new structures were completed including the Vancouver Opera House, built on Granville by the CPR on the site now occupied by Nordstrom, the Strand (just off Granville on Georgia), the Capitol, and the Orpheum.

Seattle’s Benjamin Marcus Priteca designed the resplendent movie palace in a Spanish Baroque-via-Hollywood idiom. It opened at exactly the wrong time. Talkies came in that year, so venues designed for silent films with live shows in between were no longer the latest thing. Then, just a few years after the grand opening, the Depression hit.

VANCOUVER — Interior image of the Orpheum Theatre. Credit: Courtesy Orpheum Theatre. Provided June 2017 [PNG Merlin Archive]
Handout, PNG

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Interior image of the Orpheum Theatre.

Not that the Orpheum didn’t matter in Vancouver’s social mosaic. It was a popular place that housed Vancouver Symphony concerts and recitals as well as movies. Which created some tensions. Charismatic manager Ivan Ackery was all about razzle-dazzle promotion. More staid uses of the theatre were definitely poor relations to block-buster films and appearances by Hollywood stars.

In the postwar years it was obvious that the city desperately needed a new concert hall so ambitious plans for the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Vancouver Playhouse were drawn up. Alas, the QET never worked for music and after less than two decades the VSO had had enough. Concurrently, downtown redevelopment signed the death warrant for most of Theatre Row’s increasingly rundown venues. A “Save the Orpheum” campaign coalesced in 1973 with the City of Vancouver acquiring the space and renovating it for music.

Tony Heinsbergen working on a mural for the Orpheum theatre.

It wasn’t a simple matter. It started with a new shell and general improvements to the sound by acoustic wizards from Bolt, Beranek and Newman Inc. of New York,

Source:: Vancouver Sun – Entertainment

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