Vancouver History: Save the Pantages Theatre

Comments 9 by Rebecca Bollwitt

Photo credit: Vancouver Pantages

Hastings Street is one of the most historic strips of roadway in Vancouver and it it currently home to a large piece of Vancouver’s theatrical history that was supposed to undergo a renovation and revival for 2010.

“The Pantages Theatre, during its heyday it hosted stars like Charlie Chaplin, Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth. Also, a nephew of the original Mr Pantages, Peter Pantages, took over the theatre in the 1920s and also founded Vancouver’s Polar Bear Club. [Miss604]”

At the turn of the 20th century Vancouver was just starting to boom. Building on up the backs of the industry workers, loggers, and Klondike gold rushers there needed to be some form of entertainment and Mr. Pantages was just the man to provide it. The original Pantages Theatre opened in 1908 and went through many iterations, which once involved being called The State in 1919 featuring burlesque acts. Through all of its phases The Pantages was indeed Vancouver’s vaudeville beacon and another of the same name was opened down the street (on Hastings) in 1917. [Miss604]

Unfortunately the refurbishing of the Pantages, planned since 2005, will no longer be taking place.

There are for sale signs up at one of western Canada’s oldest theatres, the Pantages near Hastings and Main in downtown Vancouver. The 100-year-old venue could soon be sold and demolished, meaning a significant part of Vancouver’s history would be lost. [CTVbc]

Local publicist Rebecca Coleman adds her personal and professional experience to the story.

This theatre is magic. I don’t know any other way of describing it. Being in there was amazing. Even though the theatre is derelict and falling down, the energy is incredible. The history of that building, and its potential impact its resident companies, specifically, and the Vancouver arts community in general, is immense.

Coleman also gives more background about the plans that were proposed for the Pantages and adjacent buildings.

In 2005, developer Marc Williams bought the property and the four adjoining ones to the west. The plan was to gut and restore the 650-seat theatre (which has incredible acoustics), build a new lobby, a new entrance, an art gallery, and 130+ units of social housing.

On April 16, 2008, after many, many tours, meetings, and getting people on board, we had a press conference announcing Williams’ $26 million development plan. It was attended by media, members of the arts community, and the Downtown East Side, and it was a huge success. [The Art of the Business]

I was personally looking forward to Pauline the opera about Pauline Johnson’s life that Margaret Atwood was even involved with. This, on top of my appreciation for Vancouver’s history and support of reviving the Downtown Eastside community, makes the news of the property sale all that more disappointing.

If you would like to learn more check out the Pantages website or Facebook group and consider signing the petition to get the attention of Vancouver City Council.

According to Rebecca Coleman, “Vancouver needs the Pantages. The Arts community desperately needs more performance space. The Downtown East Side would benefit both from the social housing, and access to and involvement with cultural events in their own neighborhood.”

Update From the Heritage Vancouver Society: Feb 23, 2011: There is no viable proposal to save the Pantages. It continues to deteriorate beyond the point of repair. Its imminent interior demolition is expected, but as of this update, no demolition permit has been issued by the City.

Update From the Heritage Vancouver Society: April 6, 2011: It’s official – a demolition permit has now been issued by the City for both the Pantages Theatre and adjacent sites.

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9 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. WillTuesday, November 4th, 2008 — 11:22am PST

    Unfortunately, with the DTES in the state it is in the renovation and reopening of the Pantages was a project many years ahead of its time. It seems like we are forever saying the DTES will clean up but until it has (past tense, as in mission accomplished) $26m into a theatre is a non-starter. Social housing, sure. Arts, not likely.

    I just hope it won’t get demolished while we wait.

  2. DarrenTuesday, November 4th, 2008 — 12:21pm PST

    I’ve always wanted to see the inside of the Pantages Theatre–hopefully I’ll get the chance before it gets torn down for Yet Another Glass Tower.

  3. CharlesTuesday, November 4th, 2008 — 3:03pm PST

    The Pantages Project, after 38 MONTHS of ceaseless effort and massive public support, has failed. On 30 September, City Council voted “no” — but did authorize a “study” in the amount of $150,000. It is not yet clear who will do this study, nor why, nor what its outcome will be. The entire site is now For Sale. Three offers have been received to date. None involves saving this 100 year old dazzler of a theatre.

    If you are opposed to the destruction of this unique theatre, and in favour of changing life at Hastings x Main forever, please tell Council: [email protected] / and please cc us at [email protected]

    The present owner of the theatre has agreed, on the day before its sale is finalized, to open the Pantages Theatre to the people of Vancouver.

    Anyone with a camera and a memory will be able to see it one last time.

  4. ThompsonMonday, November 10th, 2008 — 10:56pm PST

    Call me out of touch if you will, but I never heard of the Pantages Theater until today. I guess you need better media exposure.

  5. CharlesTuesday, November 11th, 2008 — 5:12pm PST

    Hi Thompson: That’s OK. It’s only been around for 100 years. With any luck, we’ll find a way to keep it going another 100. Certainly worth all the effort… literally irreplaceable.

  6. GARYWednesday, November 12th, 2008 — 6:54pm PST

    Why has this building not been declaired a heritage building and where does the destruction of Vancouvers history stop. before you know it they will be building condos in Stanley Park. City Councel get your head out of the ground and save this building

  7. CharlesThursday, November 13th, 2008 — 8:50am PST

    Hi Gary:

    It IS a Heritage building, but only in section B. This is, effectively, worthless. The City has the right to prevent demolition for up to 120 days, but that’s it. No more.

    The property went on sale after the Council’s in-camera decision of 30 September, and after 38 months of our trying to meeting their requirements. None of the offers received to date involve saving the theatre. Most involve land-banking the entire site. In our climate, the roof will continue to fail and ‘demo by neglect’ will be the consequence.

    Our present developer has spent $76,000 on roof repair alone. The City’s offer to help with “building stabilization”, made in May of 2007, was withdrawn in August of 2007.

  8. Polar Bear Swim 2009 » Vancouver Blog Miss 604 by Rebecca BollwittMonday, December 22nd, 2008 — 4:20pm PST

    […] by Peter Pantages (the same Pantages as the theatre) this has become a cherished (yet frightfully chilly) tradition in Vancouver for the better part of […]

  9. Vancouver Polar Bear Swim 2010 » Vancouver Blog Miss 604 by Rebecca BollwittThursday, December 17th, 2009 — 3:46pm PST

    […] legacy of Peter Pantages will live on New Years Day as Vancouver hosts its 90th annual Polar Bear Swim in English Bay. […]

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