Vancouver Heritage Foundation Weekly: A Matter of Entertainment

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Vancouver Heritage Foundation is a registered charity supporting the conservation of heritage buildings and structures in recognition of their contribution to the city’s economy, sustainability and culture.
Vancouver Opera House 1903, 759 Granville St. (now the site of the old Sears, awaiting redevelopment). Flashlight of Audience Watching "King Dodo" AM54-S4-: Bu P389

“Vancouver was a great show town in the twenties, with a lot of theatres.  According to a list…there were some forty five of them.”

Ivan Ackery, (Orpheum Manager 1980,  Vancouver Historical Society’s “The Story of Vancouver”).

Vancouver’s had a diverse and exciting entertainment scene since its beginnings as a saloon town in Granville, later Hastings Townsite, with workingmen, seafarers, and visitors from across the borders, seeking music, beverages and merriment day and night. Live shows, movie theatres, supper clubs and dance halls dotted the downtown scene and  evolved with the times. We’re excited to be celebrating 5 places in 2013 where music, dance and entertainment have mattered to Vancouverites.

1- In 1911, the Lester Dancing Academy operated at 1022 Davie for 30 years, then became the Embassy Ballroom, a genteel dancing club. From Dante’s Inferno and Retinal Circus in the 60s, the 1980s brought new ownership and its most recent reincarnation as Celebrities Nightclub. Stay tuned for a celebration with the Kerasiotis family!

2- 1925 marked the opening of a Gymbodian Hall by the Grandview Methodist Church at 1882 Adanac. In 1963 the Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English Social and Athletic Society purchased it and the WISE Hall continues to be a space for performances, music and community gathering. Plans are to celebrate in the summer once renos have been completed.

3- The Commodore Cabaret’s glamorous Art Deco opening in 1929 didn’t fare well during the depression but went on to become the place for dancing and dining to legendary big bands until the 60s. An exciting launch will be made this year and we’re hoping to join in the historic celebrations.

4- In 1952 until it closed in the 1980s, the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret was a destination for edgy entertainment in Vancouver.  Loggers used the phrase “wine and dine, it’s Smilin’ Buddha time” and Jimi Hendrix amongst many others played there. The iconic neon sign inspired  54-40 who bought, toured with and later donated the sign to the Museum of Vancouver where it’s now on display. Unfortunately the current site at 109 East Hastings sits vacant, but we hope to bring fans and locals together to remember and mark its place in entertainment history.

5- In a converted gospel hall on Seymour Street in 1964 (now home of  Vancity Theatre/VIFF), the original Arts Club Theatre ran shows in the building until its demolition in 1991. We’re excited to return to the company’s original home to celebrate its 50th anniversary season.

Last year we recognized 6 sites where entertainment continues to thrive in the city:  The Penthouse Cabaret c.1947 (3), Vancouver Folk Music Festival c. 1978  (17), The Chicken Coop Loretta Lynn played c. 1959 (34), Jericho Arts Centre c.1940 (35), The CULTCH/Free University c.1909  (44), and The Railway Club c.1931 (46). Amazingly all of these sites are still standing and can be visited and enjoyed by all (except the chicken coop now a private residence). Check out the full list here.

Where are your favourite entertainment spots in Vancouver; long gone or still standing?

Photo by Brian Kent for the Vancouver Sun c. 1950-60s.