Here’s a 1930’s picture of the recently completed Plaza Cinema on Granville Street. We can date the picture from the film that’s showing – “Assassin of Youth”. There’s a copy of the movie online these days, so you can make your own mind up about its quality and accuracy. In 1937, when it was released, it portrayed “a high-school girl who gets involved with a ring of teenage marijuana smokers and starts down the road to ruin. A reporter poses as a soda jerk to infiltrate the gang of teen dope fiends.” One puff of a joint turns clean cut kids into either hardened, remorseless criminals or maniacs. The cinema seems to have managed to attract quite the crowd to view the film, but maybe the fact that the theatre was only a year old in its new incarnation helped.
The building in the picture was designed by Thomas L Kerr, who also designed the Palace, (later the Lux) on East Hastings. Thomas Kerr had started as an architect in Winnipeg, moved to California, and then to Vancouver around 1929. In fact there had been a theatre here much longer – the earliest reference we can find for the Maple Leaf was in 1908, and we now know (thanks to Patrick Gunn) that it originally cost $6,000 and was designed by Norman Leech, who a year later took on the job of architect for the School Board. This might explain why alterations a year later were designed by W T Whiteway at a cost of $3,500. The same amount was spent three years later on alterations designed by Ginser Brothers. Whiteway’s changes may have coincided with the installation of the Chronophone system (making the Maple Leaf one of the first talking picture movie houses in Canada). The sound system utilised two gramophones amplified by compressed air. As Past Tense notes, “A deft operator was expected to seamlessly switch records while maintaining synchronization with the action on the screen.”
The cinema was reopened as the Plaza in 1936 and renamed as the Odeon in 1963. It closed in 1987 when the Granville 7 opened further up the street, but was reopened by Famous Players as the Plaza again for 3 years from 1988. It briefly reopened again in 1993 and continued running on-and-off until it closed for good as a movie theatre in 1997.
After significant modifications the theatre reopened as a club, initially the Plaza Club and more recently Venue, a 2-level space that can accommodate 500 people and which features both DJs and live shows.