Left, November 1913, "Alcazar Theatre", only known image of the original facade; Middle, 1940s streamlined update, renamed "York Theatre""; Right, 2008 "Raja Theatre" (closed). Photo credits: (L) The Daily News Advertiser, 1913; (M) Vancouver Archives; (L) Heritage Vancouver
Vancouver has seen its fair (ok, more than fair) share of historical buildings being razed to the ground recently and an increasing loss of cultural spaces: The Pantages Theatre built in 1907, torn down in April of last year; The Ridge Theatre saw its final days last month and it’s not looking good for The Waldorf. One such building that was scheduled for the chopping block was the York Theatre; aka Alcazar Theatre, aka The Palace, aka The Little Theatre, aka the New York Theatre, aka the Raja. This place has had more names than Joan Rivers has had face-lifts.
1913 ; Early logo from the Alcazar Theatre
Built in 1913 on Commercial Drive at the corner of East Georgia Street by Vancouver architect John McCarter, the York is one of the oldest theatres in Vancouver that is still kicking. It is only one of a few purpose-built theatres in Vancouver. It’s purpose? Theatre. It has a fly tower (a space where devices for lifting and lowering elements such as scenery, curtains, people even – y’know, like in Peter Pan) and a proscenium stage.
Here’s a quick timeline of The York’s history:
- 1913- Alcazar Theatre opens it doors, hosting plays and movies before closing down after two years of operations.
- 1915- The Palace Theatre opens and operates as a movie theatre until 1923.
- 1923 – The Vancouver Little Theatre Association (VLTA) purchases the space and renames it The Little Theatre.
- 1940 – After investing a considerable amount in renovations, including a new entrance façade and marquee as well as updates to the stage and lighting; the VLTA renames the theatre The York.
- 1978 – After more than 50 years as the home to the VTLA and due to the cost of upkeep for the aging theatre, VTLA opts to sell The York. The new owners converts it to a movie theatre and it became the home of Bollywood films.
- 1981 – The owners decided to demolish the theatre and this is when the ‘Save the York Theatre Society’ was born. Due to community support, the York narrowly escapes the death knell, is re-purposed as a music venue, and becomes the New York Theatre.
The York Theatre before it's $14.8 Million renovation
Let’s jump to 1996. The New York was now the Raja Theatre and was once again featured Bollywood cinema. Only a few short years later, the Raja Theatre was no more. After that, various initiatives were put forth to save the York to no avail, until a 2008 City of Vancouver administrative report recommending, “that council support the ongoing efforts to retain the York Theatre”, paving the way for the Wall Financial Corporation and The Cultch to form a partnership to purchase and restore the York Theatre once and for all. This is very much a restoration and upgrade as most of the original theatre built in 1913 will remain intact
Construction work on The York theatre
As we enter 2013, one hundred years after it’s initial construction, the York is finally getting some TLC and is in the midst of a full-on makeover. This is very much a restoration and upgrade as most of the original theatre will remain intact and the exterior will reclaim its Art Deco design from the 1940s. The renovations, by Henriquez Partners Architects, will be up to the LEED Gold Standard, which takes into account sustainability, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design. A major new feature will be a two-story glass lobby to showcase the mosaic finishes inside the building.
This resilient theatre that found a place in a community’s hearts, and managed to survive against all odds, is expected to re-open in the fall and will be managed by The Cultch as a rental venue for performances and special events.
The York’s restoration, when combined with The Cultch Historic Theatre, the Vancity Culture Lab, and the clubs, restaurants and other amenities on Commercial Drive, will solidify Grandview/Strathcona as a major cultural district in East Vancouver, while revitalizing the Drive between Venables and Hastings Street. Stay tuned for more on the progress of the renovations and to find out what you really want to know – when’s the Grand opening party?