Pantages Theatre (1907) [Lost - Demolished]
Page updated: December 30, 2011
Note: We'll be constantly updating with info, as we receive it. See bottom of page for articles, links, etc.
Vancouver's Pantages Theatre, located at Main and Hastings, is the oldest surviving vaudeville theatre in Western Canada and the first theatre built by famed theatre owner Alexander Pantages.
The Pantages Theatre at 152 East Hastings, designed by architect Edward Evans Blackmore, was officially opened on January 6, 1908. It is the second in a chain of theatres built in North America by renowned vaudeville impresario Alexander Pantages. It is currently the oldest remaining Pantages Theatre in North America, the oldest vaudeville theatre that survives intact in Western Canada and the oldest surviving theatre in Vancouver. Once part of a thriving theatre district, the theatre is one of the last survivors.
The current owner has been unable to come to an agreement with the city to restore the theatre after three years of planning and negotiations. Given the nature of Vancouver's real estate climate and lack of heritage protection, if sold for development, this will likely mean the demolition of the Pantages theatre.
Following the trend of early theatres, this buildingin has a plain, office-like, exterior that conceals an ornate interior, and is a smaller version of the now demolished, Empress Theatre two blocks east. The only major alteration to this building has been the removal of the ticket booth.
The interior of this unique building is wonderful, with superb acoustics. Designed in an era when theatre design was going through a transformation, the Pantages exhibits a much simpler decoration scheme than later theatres. Original plaster decoration remains, including three-dimensional musical instruments and a Pantages 'P' shield logo above the stage, considerable amounts of scroll work, and the initials of Mr. Pantages, the theatre's owner, within other scroll elements. The proscenium was originally surrounded by flame-shaped light bulbs, with the original sockets still in place. Original scenic paintings on canvas, along with stenciled scrollwork still exists covering the side walls, but currently can only be seen when newer plain wall coverings were pulled back to reveal these original elements.
The Pantages Theatre has been an important part of the fabric of Vancouver’s historic precinct for over 100 years.
Heritage Vancouver’s position
Heritage Vancouver has been supporting initiatives to preserve the Pantages for a number of years. We have worked closely with previous owners and with for the last four years with the current owners. The historic Pantages must be preserved, both for its heritage significance and also for the vital role that it will play in neighbourhood revitalization.
We've strongly urged the City to purchase the Pantages Theatre to ensure that this important landmark remains as the historic heart and soul of the community well into the future. The purchase of the theatre would give the City adequate time to carry out the proposed feasibility study that has been promised. This study will allow for open public consultation on the Theatre’s future, give the City a better understanding of the cost implications of restoring the Pantages, and provide options for funding and carrying out its rehabilitation. Heritage Vancouver welcomes the opportunity to work collaboratively with the city during the course of the feasibility study. In the meantime the city could mothball the theatre until a preferred option for rehabilitation becomes available.
In current challenging economic times, it is understandable that Council is concerned about potential cost implications. However, this is exactly the time to take bold and decisive action. We count on our elected representatives to make decisions that are best in the long, not the short term. Over the past six years, the community has expressed overwhelming support for the current owner’s plans to restore the Pantages. By purchasing this theatre, Council could make a significant long-term contribution to the community, connect us to our historic roots and create a valuable legacy for future generations. We only need to consider the invaluable contribution of our other historic theatres – the Orpheum, the Stanley, the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, the Vogue and soon the York – to our cultural life, our tourism industry and our economy to see the wisdom of this investment.
What can you do?
Please write a letter to Mayor Robertson and City Council supporting the preservation of the Pantages and urging them to take whatever action is required to save this historic landmark, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, view our Top Ten Endangered Sites entries
for the Pantages theatre: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010
Updated December 29, 2011: The final bricks are being palleted of what was the oldest surviving Pantages theatre from the once large chain of theatres, and Canada's oldest surviving purpose-built vaudeville theatre - Vancouver's Pantages Theatre is no more.
Updated Sept. 10, 2011: The theatre is currently undergoing full demolition by hand, and as of today, the demolishers are approx. halfway through taking down the grand old lady. Hidden behind layers of paint on the front facade, was the original large granite nameplate of the main owner, Arthur Clemes, showing his name and the 1907 date - this has been removed, saved, and purchased privately.
Updated April 28, 2011: There was long-standing support by Heritage Vancouver Society for the conservation of the Pantages. We have worked with different owners over the years, and it has been on our Top Ten Endangered List several times. We were hopeful that the last application would conserve the theatre. Unfortunately a deal could not be negotiated with the City. For the last several years, the roof of the Pantages has been breached. As water infiltrated the interior structure deteriorated to the point where it was beginning to collapse in several locations. Over time it reached the point where interior structural collapse was imminent. As the plaster soaked up water, it began to fail, and was falling in pieces to the floor. Emergency documentation was undertaken by the City in 2010. Salvage work on representative plaster sections was undertaken in 2010. At the same time, comprehensive photographic documentation was undertaken. We did not win this battle. Although this is a very sad ending, and a huge loss to Vancouver's heritage, the building was doomed by a number of political, social and economic forces that prevented a better outcome. Heritage Vancouver Society continues to work to support heritage conservation throughout the City and welcomes public support for our effort.
Updated April 6, 2011: It's official – a demolition permit has now been issued by the City for both the Pantages Theatre and adjacent sites, without any retention - facade or otherwise.
Updated 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.
Updated Jan 26, 2011: Interior salvage work has begun on the adjacent land assembly buildings, of which, the Pantages is included in the parcel.
Updated Aug 11, 2010: The Pantages has been condemned for some time now and salvage work recently began to remove and store intact pieces from the interior of the Pantages Theatre, since water has now destroyed much of the plaster work that remained on the walls, with other elements having crashed to what's left of the floor. The current owner has given up on any plans to restore the theatre but to date there has been no application for a demolition permit. Sadly it seems as though it is only a matter of time before the old theatre comes down.
Updated Dec 17, 2009: Breaking News: The Pantages Theatre Arts Society has abandoned its struggle as of today, to preserve and restore Vancouver's Historic Pantages Theatre – Heritage Vancouver urges the City of Vancouver to find a way to preserve The Pantages.
Heritage Vancouver has received a letter from the Pantages Theatre Arts Society informing us of their intention to abandon the struggle to preserve and restore the Pantages Theatre. This is yet one more example of how the lack of heritage incentives at all levels of government has thwarted community efforts to protect our built heritage. We invite you to contact Mayor Gregor Robertson and Council Mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca to urge them to turn their attention to finding a way to preserve this building. This is a most urgent matter, and the last chance for the historic Pantages.
See our response letter dated Dec 17, 2009 in the left column.
The letter from Peter Fairchild, of the Pantages Theatre Arts Society to HVS, dated Dec 17, 2009 can be viewed here (PDF).
Updated May 9, 2009: Regrettably there is no good news to report on the Pantages Theatre. Last July the previous City Council turned down the current owner's final proposal to restore the Pantages Theatre. In September, instead of purchasing the Theatre, Vancouver City Council agreed to conduct a feasibility study, which to date has not been started. The current Council has had no discussion with the owner and has shown no interest in reversing the previous council's decision.
The sale of the Pantages is progressing and it is our understanding that the interested purchaser does not intend to retain the building. In the meantime the Theatre's condition has deteriorated so rapidly it is now off limits to visitors. It appears that Vancouver will lose a 101-year old theatre, unique in all of western Canada.
Resource web links (external)
Pantages photos on our Flickr stream
Heritage Vancouver Society Flickr stream - Pantages set
Facebook - Save the Pantages Theatre
Facebook group link
Petition online to Save the Pantages
History of Vancouver - The Pantages in Vancouver
Other Surviving Pantages Theatres
News articles (external)
104-year-old Vaudevile palace being demolished this week
The Vancouver Sun; April 7, 2011; by John Mackie
vancouver_sun_pantages_2011_04_08.pdf (PDF, 840k)
It's Curtains for the Pantages Theatre
The Vancouver Sun; July 2, 2010; by John Mackie
vansun_curtains_pantages_07_2010.pdf (PDF, 216k)
Heritage Canada's Top 10 Endangered sites for 2009 (Pantages included)
Heritage Canada Foundation; July 7, 2009
Historic Pantages Theatre for sale
The Vancouver Sun; Oct 22, 2008; by John Mackie
vancouver_sun_pantages_22_10_2008.pdf (PDF, 52k)
Fat lady sings for East Side theatre
Vancouver Courier; Oct 24, 2008; by Shawn Conner
vancouver_courier_pantages_24_10_2008.pdf (PDF, 52k)
Final call for historic Vancouver theatre?
CTV; Oct 23, 2008; by Peter Grainger
ctv_pantages_23_10_2008.pdf (PDF, 68k)