UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A theatre is not just a building : civic response and the preservation of historic movie theatres Stacey, Beverley Anne Schlosser


The historic movie theatre represents an important era in the development of Canadian culture. Movies have helped form opinions, taste, language, dress and behavior of sixty percent of the population of the earth. A "night out at the movies" was, and is today, an societal institution and an important part of the courting ritual. The architecture of historic movie palaces has made a distinctly North American contribution to architectural history. Unfortunately, the movie may represent to many Canadian decision makers and community leaders a symbol of American cultural domination and crass, mass popular culture. The structure is often viewed as an expendable white elephant, not only by the unsympathetic layman, but the film industry itself. When the old movie palace is discerned as no longer economically viable as a movie theatre, it is often demoUshed to make way for a parking lot, new urban development, or renovated to create multiplex theatres. While many of the marvelous old movie palaces have been demolished, many have been saved to serve as cultural venues for their respective communities and acknowledged as strategic anchors for inner-city rejuvenation projects. This thesis discusses the dynamics of civic response through a cross-cultural examination based on three case studies - the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia and the Pantages and the Rialto Theatres in Tacoma, Washington - which demonstrate successful historic theatre restoration and reuse projects. Through an examination of the relevant literature, private files, archives research, interviews, site visits and case study analysis, important general conclusions are made with respect to the fate of the historic movie theatre in American and Canadian communities. Because of diverse historical developmental roots resulting in political and socioeconomic differences, Americans have more influence at the local level with respect to decision making and community development through the power to vote for bond issues that provide monies for local expenditures. Through years of expressing a desire for heritage funding and providing economic incentives for heritage restoration projects, much more has been accomplished. Canadians delegate more power to all levels of government and believe that these governments should be held responsible for local initiative project funding. These differing socioeconomic and political climates are reflected in the case studies presented herein. A review of a variety of restoration projects illustrate examples of government and private initiatives and the general state of threatre restoration across Canada. There is little evidence of strong community effort with respect to private funding initiatives. This is due to two reasons: general reliance on government to provide funds for cultural development and federal taxation policies that do not encourage historic preservation. A review of Canadian heritage legislation illustrates how ineffectual it is in the protection of heritage resources and how important local civic action is when heritage restoration and reuse is in question. The Province of British Columbia has a draft bill, the White Paper, that addresses new heritage legislation that awaits legislative approval. Policy recommendations based on proposed changes to heritage restoration and redevelopment areas encourage recognition of the value of the historic movie theatre to the community. Policy options for the City of Vancouver are explored with respect to the historic theatre district on Granville Mall and two historic theatres, the Stanley Theatre and the Vogue Theatre, now closed. This thesis argues that when the need for additional cultural facilities has been identified and acknowledged, as it has been in Vancouver, and when monies are available through cash-in-lieu for provision of off-site amenities, as in an option in the case of the Coal Harbour development, existing facilities should be examined. Renovation and reuse of vacant structures should be considered. A review of a variety of alternatives may better serve the general needs of the population with respect to location and economy.

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