York Theatre Anniversary

Seventy-five years ago today, the then-newly renovated theatre in the 600-block of Commercial Drive was opened and re-named as the York Theatre.

The theatre, previously called the Palace, had been operated by the Vancouver Little Theatre Society since the 1920s. During the late 1930s, the group had fundraised enough money for a complete refurbishment of the building, including a new street-facing front. The work was completed in February 1940 and the new York Theatre was re-opened.

This fine anniversary of that event cannot hide the fact that the present York Theatre, essentially demolished, rebuilt and re-opened just a couple of years ago is perhaps the worst excrescence to blight the Drive since Il Mercarto was erected in the 1980s. The design is simply an ugly box. But that is not the worst of it: it was re-built under the terms of a completely phony “heritage” arrangement.

A theatre in the neighbourhood is a very fine thing — and I have supported it by attending shows there — but it should have been built as a “cultural” project rather than using up precious heritage funding. However, a cultural designation would not have allowed the developers to claim the huge (100,000 square feet+) heritage density bonus with which they can visit their perfidious designs elsewhere in our City.

I call the arrangement “phony” because there is not a single inch of heritage building left to see. Not one single inch. There are, I believe some old walls left standing, but none is visible to the public. They, along with the marvelous 1920s Little Theatre sign on the south wall all have been subsumed within modern walls and coverings.  Moreover, the design has no relevance to any of the previous incarnations of theatre on that site. It looks nothing at all like the original Alcazar Theatre, or the Palace that followed, or the 1940 York Theatre.  It is an ugly box.

Heather Redfern, executive director of the Cultch which manages the current York Theatre, has plans to put yet another architectural eyesore on the site of the Green House, next door to the Cultch on Venables. That must not be allowed to proceed. The theatrical arts are of considerable value to our neighbourhood, but of much less value than the irreplaceable heritage structures that we are losing forever in the process.

5 Responses to York Theatre Anniversary

  1. jenables says:

    Thanks for this post. I did not know that the York was called the palace originally, despite having read more than your average bear of its history. Perhaps I forgot. You are right about the design – INCREDIBLY ugly. It further confirms my belief that modern architecture seems to be jealous of it’s much more elegant and well-built predecessors, and seeks to destroy them whenever possible. That they would have the incredible nerve to claim it was designed to honor it’s art deco heritage furthers the insult. One would think for fourteen million (!) the theatre could have actually been renovated in exactly the same style it used to have. Apparently millions of dollars doesn’t get you very far in the rotten and corrupt to the core construction/architecture industry in Vancouver today. Still, I am glad it remains a theatre and wasn’t torn down in favour of the “eco-townhouses” originally planned by the previous owner, as ugly as it is. I have now gotten to the point where green, (save the green party), eco or sustainable (or mixed-use, or livable or vibrant or “sense of place”) inspires an immediate reaction of disgust in me. I’m so tired of this ugly newspeak bullshit and it’s prevalence in Vancouver today

  2. Drive patron says:

    Jenables wrote:
    …”could have actually been renovated in exactly the same style it used to have”
    Which was the mistake that Redfern, , did recently with the VECC, razing it to the ground and replacing with a steel frame replica to assuage the heritage viewers,

    But it is nothing like the old Methodist church used as-is, successfully as a Inner City Services youth centre and Vancouver Free University in the 1960s. Until the VAG’s Chris Wooten got ahold of it for personal aggrandizement.

    • jenables says:

      Renovation isn’t supposed to mean razing something to the ground. The building, in the forties, i think, had an elaborate art deco facade that was visually pleasing. At some point in the last seventy years this was lost, possibly when they made the addition at the front. (not the most recent one) assuming the capability to reproduce such things is not lost, it could have been replicated. I’m a little incredulous you interpreted it that way, perhaps you are suggesting it required no renovation? It sat empty for three years and was already in disrepair but that in no way necessitated turning it inTo a concrete and glass box. A considerable amount of effort was made to save it but leaving it “as is” was never on the table. Also it has always been a theatre, it was not repurposed so i don’t really see the relevance of your example with the church. perhaps you’ll explain it to me

  3. jakking says:

    Jen, I assume he was talking about the recent Cultch reno which was the United Church and then the Free University before it was the Cultch.

    • jenables says:

      Ah, thanks for clearing that up, Jak. As i mentioned, I had read, (and forgotten) a lot about the York at one point, but not the cultch (that name…) so much. Cheers!

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