The current owner has plans to demolish the theatre and redevelop the site. No alternative has been found to save the Pantages.
Why is the Pantages Theatre significant?
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.
The building follows the trend of early theatres in having a plain, office-like, exterior that conceals an ornate interior. Vancouver’s 1908 Pantages exhibits cast plasterwork with detailed scrollwork, including three-dimensional musical instruments and a Pantages “P” shield logo above the stage. Flame-shaped light bulbs originally surrounded the proscenium and the light sockets are still in place.
The Pantages Theatre has been an important part of the fabric of Vancouver’s historic precinct for over 100 years.
What is the threat to the Pantages Theatre?
The Historic Pantages Theatre is at imminent risk of demolition by neglect.
In 2008, unable to reach a deal with the City of Vancouver, the owner put the Theatre up for sale and indicated his intention to submit a new development permit application as well as a demolition permit. In May 2009 a fire was set on the roof of the Pantages and firefighters chopped through the roof to ensure there were no lingering flames. The stage area has now collapsed into the basement; the balconies are no longer safe to walk on; and the structural members supporting the front of the theatre are splitting.
In December 2009, the Pantages Theatre Society announced that is was abandoning the struggle to preserve and restore Vancouver’s Historic Pantages Theatre.
At the time of writing the owner has not sold the half block of properties containing the Pantages, nor has he submitted development and demolition permit applications. In the meantime vandalism and water damage continue to plague Vancouver’s oldest theatre, which now sits abandoned, padlocked and condemned due to safety concerns.
The Pantages Theatre is also included on Heritage Canada’s 2009 Top Ten Endangered List.
Many famous vaudeville stars trod the boards at the Pantages when it was a Vaudeville house. In the late 1920s, it was converted to a movie house and has operated under several names during its lifetime, among them the Royal, State, Queen, Avon and City Nights. It most recently operated as a Chinese-language theatre until it closed in 1994. The Pantages has been sitting unused since that time. There have been various proposals to restore and reopen the Pantages Theatre, but none of them have been successful.
In 2004, developer Marc Williams purchased the Pantages Theatre with plans to restore it.
In 2005, The Pantages Theatre Arts Society was formed to help restore and manage the theatre in the public interest once it was restored. The Pantages would have been home to three resident companies: City Opera of Vancouver, Vancouver Cantonese Theatre and Vancouver Moving Theatre. The plans called for the theatre to be seismically upgraded and the interior fully restored.
In July 2008, Vancouver City Council turned down the current owner’s final proposal to restore the Pantages Theatre and agreed to conduct a feasibility study, which has never been carried out. The current Council talked of purchasing the Pantages but with the economic downtown decided not to proceed with this option.
Heritage Vancouver’s Position
Heritage Vancouver strongly urges 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.
Update 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.
Update 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 o 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)
Facebook – Save the Pantages Theatre [link has expired]
Facebook group link
Petition online to Save the Pantages [link has expired]
History of Vancouver: The Pantages in Vancouver
Other Surviving Pantages Theatres [link has expired]
News articles (external)
National Trust for Canada
Top 10 Endangered sites for 2009: Pantages Theatre
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)