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.