West Georgia and Seymour – sw corner

w-georgia-seymour-sw

The buildings on the edge of the image on the left are a set of Mission styled 1920s stores designed by H H Gillingham. Across Seymour is a theatre, which in this 1973 image was known as the Strand Theatre. Across the lane was the Birks Building, demolished in 1975 with the theatre to allow the construction of the Vancouver Centre. The construction of Birks in 1912 had required the demolition of three early office buildings built by Canadian Pacific directors before 1890.

The theatre was opened in August 1920 as the Allen Theater, one of the first super deluxe movie houses in Canada; described in promotional material as ‘Canada’s finest and most modern photoplay theatre’. It cost $300,000 to build and it was completed in only six months. Some reports say that after a year the Allen chain of 50 theatres were bankrupt and theatre was purchased for a nickel on the dollar, reopening as the Strand with 1,950 seats in 1923. Others suggest that the Ontario based Allen family reorganized their operation with US partners, creating the Famous Players brand. The first is more accurate: the Allen family were from Ontario but had moved their operations to Calgary in 1910. They expanded their chain significantly in the late 1910s, often hiring Detroit architect C Howard Crane, (with Kiehler & Schley).  This theatre had many modern amenities including built-in cigarette lighters and, in a local touch, featured work by Vancouver sculptor Charles Marega.

A decline in movie attendance, the loss of the rights to show Paramount movies and increased competition in the early 1920s did see the company bankrupt, and they sold to Famous Players in 1923 at a significant loss. Most cinemas were renamed as a Capitol – but not in Vancouver where there was already a Capitol down Seymour Street.

Both the Allen and Strand featured live vaudeville acts before their movies, sometimes supplied by Fanchon and Marco, (Fanchon Simon and her brother Marco Wolff). Even after relaunching with US backers, the cinemas were not immune to outside economic realities. In 1932, the theater went dark for a year due to the depression; (Fanchon and Marco were booked at the Orpheum instead). Ivan Ackery managed the Strand in 1934 and recalled hired the Dumbells, a touring musical-comedy show formed by a group of soldiers from the 3rd Division, to appear before the movies.

Although built as a movie theatre, the stage was large enough to permit use as a regular theatre. In 1940, for example, The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo  performed at the Strand. The show featured a cast of 150, including Alicia Markova.

Image source City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-391

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Posted January 23, 2017 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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