Newly refurbished York Theatre opens on the Drive

This article, by Martha Perkins, was originally published in the West Ender Vancouver on December 11, 2013.

Refurbished York Theatre’s colourful façade creates drama on Commercial Drive

Old vaudeville theatres didn’t have lobbies because they didn’t need them — the shows were continual, with audience members coming and going as they pleased.

Last Friday night, when temperatures dipped south of zero, the hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the relaunch of the York Theatre were grateful that architect Gregory Henriquez had somehow managed to create a lobby where only sidewalk had been when the theatre was built in 1913.

As some of the players in Vancouver’s arts scene — Mayor Gregor Robertson, financier Bruno Wall, Bard on the Beach’s Christopher Gaze, the Arts Club’s Bill Millerd — mingled in the long, narrow foyer of the former vaudeville theatre, passersby on Commercial Drive could peer through the large windows and create their own stories about all those characters standing about in the lobby. It’s exactly what Henriquez imagined.

He draped the new exterior glass wall in red tiles to represent the red curtains of a vaudeville stage. The inside walls are a mosaic of rectangular glass tiles made by Burnaby’s Interstyle Glass + Ceramic, creating the shimmering mirage of a colourful stage backdrop.

The project was spearheaded by the late Vancouver politician Jim Green.

“This renovation,” Bruno Wall said Friday night, “started very innocently when Jim Green phoned and said, ‘You need to buy the York Theatre.’ I got on the phone with my uncle Peter who said, ‘Go figure it out and make it happen.’”

Gregor Robertson was also on Green’s speed dial. “Jim came to see me,” the mayor recounted at the opening night reception. “He said, ‘We have to make the York Theatre happen.’”

Arts and community groups had long been adding their voices to the chorus and, $13 million and more years than anyone wanted to admit later, the theatre was finally ready to regain its beloved status on The Drive.

“Jim Green believed culture is for everybody. This building is a legacy to him,” Henriquez said.

The York Theatre will be a theatre and rental facility operated by The Cultch. Until December 29, audiences are invited to celebrate the holidays with Jack and the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto with words by Charles Demers (CBC’s Debaters, Vancouver Special), music by Veda Hille (Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata), and direction by Amiel Gladstone. Tickets are $17 to $34.

Future performances include throat singers providing live music to a screening of Nanook of the North as part of PuSh, Rogers and Hammerstein’s Out of a Dream, the bluegrass musical Floyd Collins and the world premiere of Pauline, City Opera Vancouver’s opera about poet Pauline Johnson with a libretto by Margaret Atwood.

The history of the York Theatre

• Built in 1913 as the 450-seat Alcazar Theatre.

• Closed in 1915 and then re-opened that year as the Palace movie theatre.

• Pur4chased by the Vancouver Little Theatre Association in 1923.

• Major renovations in 1939

• Re-opened in 1940 as York Theatre.

• Sold to a developer in 1977.

• Leased as a movie theatre

• Closed from 1981 to 1983.

• Re-opened in 1983 as the New York Theatre, a music venue that hosted bands from the punk and grunge scene. Kurt Cobain played here in 1990

• Closed in 1993.

• In 1996, two brothers bought the building and re-opened it as Raja Cinema.

• Closed in early 2000s.

• Bought by a developer in 2007 with plans for town houses, prompting a feasibility study to see if it could be saved.

• Study completed in 2008.

• City of Vancouver approves plan for refurbishment.

Details at TheCultch.com.


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