5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Commodore Ballroom

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Commodore Sign
Photo: Commodore Ballroom.

Each week we’ll uncover some unusual and (hopefully) interesting facts about the city. This week we take on the legendary Commodore Ballroom.

1. It wasn’t the first Commodore on Granville St.

King Studio photo, Vancouver Public Library VPL 70488.
King Studio photo, Vancouver Public Library VPL 70488.

The Commodore Cabaret was built in December 1929. Its location on Granville Street was formerly home to the Commodore Café, a small restaurant that had serviced the area since 1924. George Conrad Reifel built the Commodore after his wife Alma suggested that Vancouver was in need of another ballroom and H.H. Gillingham designed the room based off the designs off old British ballrooms.

2. It closed almost immediately

City of Vancouver Archives. Ref: AM1535-: CVA 99-4293.
City of Vancouver Archives. Ref: AM1535-: CVA 99-4293.

The Commodore Cabaret opened on Dec 3, 1930, but had to close for 4-months amidst the Great Depression. The venue officially reopened in 1931 and featured a house band, dinner and dancing every Saturday night. Admission at the time was $1 per person. During prohibition, police would regularly raid the Commodore, so patrons got in the habit of keeping a hand on their drink in order to hide it quickly.

3. The floors really are perfect for dancing

City of Vancouver Archives.
City of Vancouver Archives.

The Commodore’s sprung dance floor uses horsehair lining to absorb the impact of your sweet dance moves. Very few venues in the world had this feature at the time it was installed.

4. It began to “rock” in 1969

Photo credit: Charles Peterson.
Nirvana at the Commodore in 1991. Photo credit: Charles Peterson.

Drew Burns made some big changes when he took over the Commodore in 1969. Renovations, a liquor license and an official name change to the Commodore Ballroom set-up the room to become one of the next great rock n’ roll venues. Prior to Burns, the Commodore featured house bands that would play exclusively for years. 1969 marked a shift away from jazz and swing and instead embraced rock, blues, punk, country, new wave and everything in between. Since then, the Commodore has hosted some of the most iconic musicians of all time.

5. It sat empty for another two years

Live at the CommodoreVancouver’s premiere live music venue turned the lights off from 1996 – 1998 due to a legal battle between the operator the leaseholder. Following more renovations, it opened its doors again on November 12, 1999 and has since remained one of the country’s most important live music venues.

Read more from our “5 Things You Didn’t Know” series HERE.