Unlike the reconfigured vaudeville houses of Hastings Street’s “great white way” or their Granville Street sisters the Orpheum and Lyric, the Capitol was all early 20th century high technology: a 2,500 seat palace built for the photoplay, replete with Wurlitzer organ.
On opening night, March 12, 1921, “famous silent film star Wallace Reid, once billed as ‘the most popular screen idol in America,’ burst through a paper screen singing and dancing to great applause. With a blare of trumpets, the Capitol Theatre Orchestra presented an overture, and Mayor R. H. Gale took the stage stating what a great day it was for Vancouver’s progress.” The opening night screening? Unknown.
When competition for the burgeoning audience of moviegoers got tough, the Capitol got sound. In 1928 it was the first local theatre to host a “talkie”, Mother Knows Best. James Melton warbling Sally of My Dreams ushered in a boom of Granville movie houses, and set in motion an ever-shifting land- and namescape that lasted decades: the Paradise, the Coronet, the Studio, the Plaza, the Downtown, the Vogue, the Dominion, the Odeon, the Towne, Caprice, the Capital 6, Vancouver Centre and, ultimately, the Granville 7.
We were struck dumb. Pop’s usual idea of a Summer day off was repainting the living room, or some casual brick laying. Not a movie. Never a movie –with both of us creeping into the double digits we had yet to see the inside of a theatre, although not for a lack of relentless tag team pestering. “You can watch a movie on TV,” the standard response.
And yet there he was: not dressed for work, car keys in hand, telling us to get a move on if we we’re going to get downtown in time. Downtown!
Wordlessly my brother and I suspended our ongoing low-intensity fist fight and piled into the Biscayne. We cruised smoothly through the bright and lazy Saturday afternoon streets and soon were floating up the endless escalators and the massive interior of the Capitol 6.
Many years later I deduced my father’s sudden shift in disposition: he had no real interest in the movie, but wanted to survey the brand new theatre’s tile-work, the public’s use of his exacting, painstaking labour.
He was happy. We were giddy. As the lights dimmed and the crowd hushed, a raucous orchestration filled the theatre and my tender little mind, and I read the words: “A long time ago ….”
Short on drivers’ licenses, of a Friday night a half dozen of us would time a rendezvous on the No. 16. Running north on Renfrew, east on Hastings, and south on Granville, and stopping in front of the Coronet, it represented the very peak of the modest transportation options available to us.
We’d wander the busy streets for a while, past the young and old couples, the families, the knots of youth. We’d survey the sketchy characters hanging out on the concrete benches, and the giant, waddling brute we named “Sid” –after his sotto voce monosyllabic drug sales pitch- while considering the evening’s formal entertainment options. Debating the relative merits of our choice shortened the bus ride home.
Caligula rolled into town, and the Towne, and the nightmares and/or fantasies of Bernice Gerard. Taking umbrage at Bob Guccione’s historical epic cum porno (no pun intended), busloads of evangelicals offered some Christian charity by making the trip in from the Valley to drum up business for the theatre.
Sure, I could drive to there -or, for that matter, get a beer at the Ritz or the Drake without too much trouble- but the Towne didn’t want to spoil its good thing: Caligula was strictly off-limits to the under-18.
It played for a year and we all turned 17. It played for another and we organized a viewing as a modest rite of passage. All I can recall about the experience was the perfunctory if energetic lesbian interlude -the sort of thing now available with a few quick clicks.
I drifted off, but came back now and again. Sometimes on a date, mostly for the Festival.
On a clement October Saturday night I stumble out of the Granville 7 and VIFF’s screening of Kill List in need of some air. A glass façade across the street has replaced the Capitol; gone, along with its tiles and the tile fitter.
I wander south past the nightclubs, past the gals dressed in a fashion once classified as “working girl”, past the guys vomiting figuratively out of bars and literally into the streets.
Portland, Oregon. Population: 2.26 million people. And 10 independent movie houses hosting an diverse mix of second-run features, classics, independent productions, festival and foreign fare, and what used to be termed “art house”, along with food, beer, and even babysitting.
I slip into the Bagdad on Hawthorne, the restored Egyptian-themed 1927 jewel in the McMenimins crown. The room is packed for shorts of William Shatner’s excesses, Star Trek mash-ups, and related youtube oddities, and the main feature, The Wrath of Khan. I leave the chuckling behind me and slip backstage to Back Stage Bar for a tumbler of bourbon and a communal screening of the latest Mad Men.
Number two of the Vancouver Heritage Society’s “Top 10 Endangered Sites (2010)” list is “Vancouver Movie Theatres.”
The City’s Cultural Plan calls for “a city of vibrant, creative neighbourhoods,” even as the Venus, Varsity, Van East Cinema and the art deco-era Hollywood slip away. Now the choice is stark: save the remaining theatres as local amenities to help sustain urban vitality and a unique sense of place -exemplified in solitary splendour by the Rio– or lose unique community space.
But since there’s no will, there’s no way. A community attempt to save the Ridge is sidelined by the developer’s commitment to incorporate the theatre’s sign in its condo reincarnation; an idea to save the Granville 7 as a venue for the eclectic perspectives of local film programmers and festivals is moot -the deals are already done, right down to the rubber stamps and handshakes. The carnage continues.
November 4, 2012. The last show on Theatre Row is The Bourne Legacy. A Hollywood franchise product inconspicuous in its sound and fury, inconsequential and disposable, the ideal bookend to that long forgotten feature that played across the street almost a century earlier.
The brief circus of media stories regarding this inauspicious event has already moved on. It’s quiet tonight, just a handful of patrons. I’m solo, half by choice, half by the less-than-illustrious nature of the event proffered. “Not even busy on closing night,” I overhear the manager remark, resignedly.
Looks like we’ll be going out with a bang and a whimper.
The audience can’t be more than dozen people. The theatre’s decidedly chilly.
The manager offers a few words to mark the occasion.
As the lights dim, someone wonders aloud whether there’s going to be trailers. There are.
Oddly, I found myself caught up in the story. At least until the plot devolved into a long and unlikely chain of kinetic events. I stay for the credits, like always.
Sunday night on the dark, rain slick street. A few stragglers heading south, a trio of buskers trying to pull it together. Such a quiet night to mark Vancouver’s progress.
Kingsgate Mall, aka “Hellsgate Mall”: a serviceable if humble collection of downmarket Mt. Pleasant retail. But space is at a premium in the Best Place on Earth for such modest offerings. It’s got to go.
Enter the developer: Ryan Beedie.
An extraordinary Globe & Mail profile, where you can almost hear the smack of lips on ass, suggests a local visionary of the distinctly nearsighted early 21st century plutocratic variety. Boredom is his motivation for moving from the industrial to residential spheres, a desire to play with a “shiny thing.” Acknowledging the controversy caused by Rize Alliance’s residential tower proposal destined for just across Kingsway, Beedie notes that he “would go to painstaking efforts to avoid such an outcome,” before expressing his grand vision for post-Kingsgate: “I would see it as being a combination of residential towers and a brand new food anchored mall ….”
The plan may be old and stale, but it’s the approach that new, fresh, visionary: the city as plaything.
“Not so long ago … this was a tangle of forest and bush surrounding a handful of shacks in a sparse clearing. The prolific growth, that in time became a source of wealth, had not yet been mastered. It was then only a jumping off place for the loggers, fishermen, and the early prospectors. But in less than a century those shacks have become streamlined pillars of stone and steel and glass –expressing a spacious freedom in their creation. They stand as monuments to men with big ideas and faith in the city’s future.”
“The land clearing operation, the burning of stumps and debris, had been underway for some time west of the settlement. The citizenry had become accustomed to the pall of smoke that dimmed the June sun into a deceptively pale disk. The feckless population was increasing daily with the influx of drifters and get-rich-quick artists attracted by the prospects of a boom town, transients in whose nostrils the smell of loot was too strong for them to notice the atmosphere of redolent Gomorrah chastised ….
“At about 2 P.M. of that Sunday afternoon in June the forces of violated nature swung into attack. The wind veered and gained in velocity. The crews tending the fires made a frantic effort to smother the blazes whose sparks were showering into the tinder-dry wasteland of wood, then fled for their lives.”
Eric Nicol, Vancouver
“Vancouver is Burning!”
Lindsay Brown, via Twitter, October 25, 2012
Despite the calls of an impending market correction, the development Juggernaut grinds on, laying waste to all those movie theatres, bowling alleys and other quaint institutions rendered superfluous by the value of the dirt they sit upon.
My friends, let us not stand in the way of the future, but embrace the inevitable. Let us not to close our eyes and think of England, but move upwind, fan the flames, and push the development paradigm to its logical, if banal, conclusion.
All we ask of each shoddily-constructed micro-living investment clusterfuck is hint of the past it has replaced: a lobby photograph or two of the edifice sacrificed to progress, a catchy name that riffs on its previous incarnation, or the incorporation of a facade or other relic into the design.
To embark on this grand unfettered vision, we need only undertake a bit of administrivia, changing the title of the City’s Director of Planning to Director of Development. And since this has already happened, we’re ahead of the game. Say, that’s the great thing about this development game: we’re always head of the game!
Here we go.
First we convert all remaining industrial and warehouse space. For names we can draw on the Italian to lend a flair to their previously mundane activities: Fabrica, Opificio, Ritrovo, Magazzino, Emporio etc.
The holy grail of industrial property is, of course, the Rogers Sugar Refinery. With Refine pre-sold and secured as a major beachhead of terra libera, we need only wait for the inevitable noise complaints and related bitching from our new investor-residents to free-up adjacent port lands to realize Cargo, Crane, Ballantine, Pier, Stevedore etc.
Next up, automotive shops: Transmission, Drive, Motive (from automotive -clever, eh?).
Then we’ll set our sites on the remaining movie screens, replacing the Dunbar with Screen, Tinseltown with Tinseltown, and the Park with … uh, Park. As our underfunded arts institutions go belly-up, we’ll reconfigure these, too. Starting with the Playhouse (Playhouse), before moving on to the Dance Centre (Move) and the Cultch (Stage).
Time to get serious and set our hungry eyes on our green spaces. Queen Elizabeth Park will offer exclusive lifestyle living at The Queen and Seasons, while Trout Lake will appeal to those seeking value (The Hendry).
And then, le piece de resistance: Stanley Park -almost 1,000 acres less amenity space just begging for some value-add. The residential naming opportunities here will be endless: First Nations Heritage (Way, for Xway-xway, Chay for Chaythoos, Klahowya, Totem, Pauline), existing facilities (Oval, Aquarium, Teahouse), landmarks (Prospect, Arch), walking trails (Tatlow, Thompson, Bridle, South Creek, Hanson, Kinglet etc etc etc). I can see the full-page Georgia Straight ads now: “Enjoy a coffee with your ocean view from your balcony at the Sea Wall Centre at Stanley Park.” The Nine O’clock Gun will be preserved as a public art installation, although it will be deactivated so as not to disturb those living nearby at the Brockton.
With the heavy lifting completed we’ll focus on in-filling space for a while, naming these projects for our illustrious development community leaders: Rennie, Aquilini, Bosa, Beasley. (Correction: the latter’s already taken. Clearly, though, we’re on the right track.)
This metropolis of glass and pressboard is almost complete, but for one last project. Just as soon as the responsibility for the upkeep of our roads and shared amenities is transferred to a private contractor funded by building maintenance fees, there really is no reason to exempt City Hall from our glorious vision.
“Modern living in Art Deco style.” But what to call it? Civic? No. I can see it now, spelled out in a giant neon sign, appropriately drowning in a sea of tarp-enshrouded towers: Vision.
“In 1973 Wallace produced his first full-scale panoramic photographic work, La Mélancolie de la rue. The triptych comprises three hand-coloured photographic panels with different images placed in stark juxtaposition: the façade of the new Winnipeg Art Gallery, a bulldozed landscape of the new suburbs, and a squatter’s shack on the Maplewood Flats in Dollarton belonging to artist Tom Burrows. By placing these images together, Wallace examines characteristic phenomena of the early 1970’s economic boom: rapid suburban sprawl, the profusion of modernist places of culture and the dropout hippy culture on the outskirts of Vancouver that was forcibly cleared for redevelopment in 1971.”
Vancouver Art Gallery
iBeg is “a game for social change.” It “simulates the life of a homeless person living on the streets” of “the beautiful city of Vancouver, British Columbia.” Every in-game purchase helps “to purchase items to help real persons in need” by an undisclosed amount.
Developers Last Pick Productions succeeded in securing $15,000 via Kickstarter to realize their project. Apparently their panhandling skills are quite adept.
Next up, how about a game where you play a game developer trying to secure investment by pitching games that trivialize serious social issues? Bonus points for cynicism.
Here, the Douglas Firs reached 400 feet. A steady diet of salmon fertilizer, the remains of feasting black bears, produced the tallest trees on the planet.
The forest housed, clothed and transported First People, proclaimed their kinship and myth.
Early European colonist earned their keep as loggers and sawmill workers, quaffed their thirsts is wooden saloons, and slept in wood frame homes heated by wood fires. And they walked streets paved with wooden blocks that support us still.