Vancouver History: The Orpheum

Comments 5 by Rebecca Bollwitt

For over 80 years the Orpheum theatre on Granville Street has been far more than an iconic neon sign. Hosting concerts, comedy showcases, the VSO, and even my high school commencement ceremony, this gorgeous venue is an magnificent slice of Vancouver history.

The Orpheum

1929 – VPL Accession Number: 11035. Photographer: Leonard Frank.

“All around the theatre, on every floor, are ornamental grace notes – murals, paintings and other art work, decorated wall fabrics, tiling, fancy balustrades, gilded mirrors, ironwork, ornate chandeliers, sconces, corbels, tapestries, plush carpeting, varied and exotic architectural embellishments – a never-ending feast for the eye.” – VancouverHistory

The theatre was built for $1 million in 1927, hosting Vaudeville acts and the latest motion pictures from Hollywood.

“Architect B. Marcus Priteca is recognized as the most accomplished theatre designer of his era in the American Northwest and Western Canada. This is the only surviving Canadian theatre designed by Priteca.” – City of Vancouver

Vancouver Orpheum
Photo credit: Pomax on Flickr

Orpheum Theatre from under the balcony

Over the years names like Garbo, Gable, Bogart, Bacall, Hepburn, Monroe, Olivier, Lancaster, Bette Davis, Jack Benny, and Alec Guinness graced the stage.

“By 1969, the Orpheum’s days appeared numbered. Cinema was facing heavy competition from television, and Famous Players was looking for ways to increase the return on its valuable downtown real estate. The planned conversion meant turning the large theatre into a multiplex. Rhonna Fleming a Community Arts Council (CAC) volunteer discovered the plans for the Orpheum when she began documenting its history in 1972. This was the beginning of the ‘Save the Orpheum’ campaign.” – City of Vancouver

1967 – Vancouver Archives Item #CVA 780-51.

The Orpheum was indeed “saved” by donations topping $432,000 and funding from various levels of government. In 1977, after a restoration process it re-opened featuring the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

In 1994 it also became the starting point for the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame Starwalk that loops up and down Granville.

In 1995 it was upgraded and in 2009 it was refurbished once more as it was designated a National Historic Site. Coming up this year the Orpheum will host artists such as Sufjan Stevens, Great Big Sea, The Canadian Tenors and the 2010-2011 season of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Orpheum on Granville
Photo credit: photojesse on Flickr

Thanks to GayVancouver for recently hosting a night at the VSO which inspired this post.

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5 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. Henry LeeMonday, October 11th, 2010 — 2:23pm PDT

    Thanks for the post about the Orpheum!

  2. Click HeroMonday, October 11th, 2010 — 10:00pm PDT

    Love all those old photographs.

  3. eyeliahTuesday, October 12th, 2010 — 8:08am PDT

    Was just there for The Black Keys, have been twice before as well. I remember the first time I walked in, that feeling of awe. It is spectacular. Great post.

  4. Johanna GoodyearWednesday, October 13th, 2010 — 5:57pm PDT

    Its sad to think how quickly some people would choose to destroy this beautiful piece of architecture (and history!), for yet another multi-plex =/

  5. kingkabuzSaturday, November 27th, 2010 — 5:55pm PST

    Hell of a piece of history, and a hell of a venue. I really enjoy every show I see here, the Vancouver Symphony is an incredible event every time.

    Great job showcasing this treasured piece of Vancouver.

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