Avenue Theatre – 719 Main Street

The Avenue Theatre sat on the western side of Main Street at the corner of Georgia, where the viaduct started, heading for Downtown. When it was built, it was on the corner of Shore Street with an arm of False Creek running up 200 feet behind it. It wasn’t a big theatre, the lot only 50 feet wide. In 1901 the site on Westminster Avenue had some small cottages next to a coal yard occupied by a tinsmith called Thomas Bell who stays there for several years before Joseph Batterstone, a shoemaker moves in and later A Archambault, a grocer. (Actually Batterstone was really Battistoni, one of an Italian family living in the neighbourhood).

In 1912 the theatre was built on the newly renamed Main Street by the Avenue Theatre Co. It was managed (until 1914) by George B Howard, who had previously run a theatre called The Lyric in the Oddfellows Hall on West Pender Street.  The architect was listed as the same as the owner, and the builder was G B Purvis, who must be the same George B Purvis from Seattle who also designed the Imperial Theatre just across the street. The building cost $80,000, and a year after it was completed the Georgia Viaduct construction was started. In 1915 it was where D W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation first showed. In 1921 it was home to a dance drama, The Lost Child, featuring the pupils of Mollie Lee.

The Avenue, in its early years, was also sometime home to the Del S Lawrence stock company, who also played at the Theatre on Gore. Mr Lawrence suffered a bout of food poisoning in 1913, sufficiently concerning that it was reported in the ‘New York Dramatic Mirror’

The Imperial was where B C Hilliam, a pianist and composer, first saw his work Oh! Oh! Oh! Captain B  performed. Hilliam was half of the vaudeville duo Flotsam and Jestsam, and composed the music to accompany poet Pauline Johnson’s Here’s a ho! Vancouver. Hilliam also wrote the music for The Belle of Burrard which had a hero called Stanley Park. In 1922 the orchestra was led by Marie Z Bryant when W C Scott was managing. The theatre only lasted as a building until 1935 (the year of this photograph). While the street directory lists the theatre in the names section, the address shows a Standard Oil gas station at this address.

That building also didn’t last very long. Between 1945 and 1947 the Murrin substation was built to the designs of McCarter and Nairne who added some subtle art deco ornamentation – although nothing like the work they carried out on the Marine Building.

The theatre seems to have been associated with a number of protests and causes. In 1917 there were anti-war meetings, and in 1935 the ‘On To Ottawa’ protesters met in the theatre before their trek eastwards (riding freight trains) to protest the conditions in the work camps established to deal with the severe economic depression that had started in 1929.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-395


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