A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.
Vancouver used to have a crazy number of theatres per capita, at first concentrated in the East End, and then Granville Street and of course scattered throughout the city’s neighbourhoods. Many vaudeville houses showcased live performances while others were dedicated to “photoplays” or “moving pictures” as films were called in the early days, and still others mixed up live and film on the same bill. A few stellar examples remain, but most have long been demolished, including the Star Theatre, a moving picture house between Hastings and Cordova on Main Street.
The first mention of the Star Theatre I found was in 1910, the year it opened. Someone wrote a classified ad on 26 October about a small black Cocker Spaniel they lost at the Saturday matinee. The 1910 directory says that a new building at 325-327 Westminster Avenue was under construction, so it was brand new when the little dog went MIA. (The street became Main that year).
A small World article on 10 November 1916 tells us that the Star proprietor was fined $25 plus costs “for having young boys in his theatre during the school hours, in contravention of the Theatre Act.” He was ratted out by Mr WH Collier, the superintendent of the Juvenile Detention Home.
Mr Graham, the proprietor of the Star, made a complaint to the police that someone tried to “jimmy” the rear door of the theatre on 17 January 1917. On 12 May of that year, Mrs Grane of Ferrara Court, was working in the ticket booth. She temporarily left her post and when she returned, she found the money she had stashed, about $70, had been stolen.
The first ad I found for the Star was in the classified section of the 21 October 1911 World: “Come and hear the fine Australian singer, Radigan. Latest moving pictures.” Very few other newspaper ads turned up.
On 23 March 1912, the World reported that the City refused the Star permission “to place an electric piano at the theatre entrance.” Later that year, on 4 December, a fire broke out at the Star. The manager noticed the film showing on the screen looked strange, so he ran up to the projection room and saw white smoke. There was a bit of a panic by folks inside the theatre, but the fire had already been put out by the time fire fighters arrived and no one was hurt. About $500 worth of damage, including the loss of the film projector, was reported. Early films were extremely flammable, so such fires weren’t all that rare, and relatively few films have survived from the early days of cinema as a consequence.
The most interesting story I found about the Star Theatre was from 27 August 1921. Mrs Graham, the manager of the Star and “the only lady theatre manager in Vancouver,” was frustrated that the building’s owner refused “repeated requests to enlarge the house or make required improvements.” So she decided to erect a new 600-seat theatre for the Star across the street, the one you see in the photo. Mrs Graham made the Star a success in the East End by showing four different films each week and keeping admission prices low. This version of the Star lasted into the 1950s when it was demolished to make way for the Vancouver Police headquarters at 312 Main Street.
Sources: Photo by Walter Edwin Frost (1951, cropped), City of Vancouver Archives #447-321; ad from Vancouver Daily World, Saturday 5 November 1921.