Alhambra Theatre – West Pender and Howe

When it opened as the Alhambra Theatre in 1899 the developers managed to include 980 seats, although the building was only fifty feet wide. It opened with Rice and Dixey’s ten year old comic play Pearl of Pekin.  By 1901 it appeared on the insurance maps as the Theatre Royal, a name it kept until 1903, renamed as the People’s Theatre until 1906 when it was renovated and became the Orpheum.

The People’s  Theatre mostly offered ‘stock company’ productions – short runs of plays by mostly by visiting performers. As the Orpheum it expanded to 1,200 seats and became a vaudeville theatre run by John Considine of Seattle who was partnered with a Tammany Hall politician, Timothy D Sullivan. In 1913 they picked up the former Opera House, a much bigger and grandiose theatre, which they renamed the “New Orpheum”. The theatre then appeared as ‘The Old Orpheum Theatre’ for a year, and then disappears from the directories, the site being described as vacant.

Among the companies who then used the location were a tire company and the Silver Dollar taxi company, but in 1929 Townley and Matheson’s 11 storey Stock Exchange Building was completed. The same architects completed the Dick Building at the corner of Granville and Broadway in the same year, and both buildings show a neo gothic style using coloured terra cotta for ornamentation. The building is still in fine shape, but a recent proposal would see a truly extraordinary intervention with a new 400,000 sq ft office tower built alongside and through the heritage building.

As a bonus, here’s a 1905(ish) shot of the back and side of the theatre taken from the Post Office tower. It looks as if only the central portion of the building is unaltered, so it’s not entirely clear if this is the 978 or 1,200 seat version – it may be a 1906 image, just after the expansion.

Main image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu N424

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