History of the Pantages

Built in 1907, the Vancouver Pantages was the second in a fabled chain of vaudeville houses, and one of nearly 70 constructed or controlled by the tireless Greek entrepreneur, Alexander Pantages. It was designed by Vancouver architect Edward Evans Blackmore (1878-1929). A noted local athlete, and son of architect William Blackmore, EE Blackmore also designed the Cambie Street YMCA, and the Federal Immigration Building.

The Pantages Theatre was constructed by BF Dempsey and Co, with building plans filed on 15 March 1907. The structure cost nearly $100,000 and was wholly fireproof, being made entirely of brick. The first front foyer featured white enamel bricks, surmounted by an ornate plaster ceiling. The stage was 30’ wide, and 38’ deep. Below stage were nine dressing rooms, with hot and cold running water, and an orchestra pit. The balcony was at first supported by two steel posts in the auditorium. In the 1970s they were removed and load-bearing horizontal beams installed, today hidden by an unobtrusive drop ceiling beneath the balcony.

Pantages did not actually own his theatre. It was built and financed for him by a silent partner, Arthur (Archie) Clemes. Clemes also owned the land next door (developed in 1913 as the Clemes Block, today the Regent Hotel), and leased theatre to Pantages. According to historical photographs, there were shops on either side of the entrance. On 20 March 1933 a bomb exploded in the entrance to the theatre, causing considerable damage to its lobby and ticket office (see photo). Windows up to the ninth floor of the Balmoral Hotel across the street were blown in. Labour unrest was blamed.

The Pantages is located in the heart of Vancouver’s original entertainment district. In the year it opened, the city had 11 registered theatres. Within a decade, there were 27. In the immediate vicinity were to be found the Imperial (1911), Empress (1905/6), Columbia (1906), National (1907), and Avenue (1911). The East Hastings Pantages is the oldest surviving theatre in Vancouver, and the oldest purpose-built vaudeville theatre interior in Canada. It is also the oldest surviving Pantages theatre in North America.

Pantages built two theatres in Vancouver. The other, located two blocks away at 20 West Hastings, opened on 17 June 1917. It was a good deal larger, even more ornate, and seated 1825. It was designed by architect Bernard Marcus Priteca (1889-1971), who designed 22 of Pantages’ theatres. Priteca also designed the Orpheum on Granville Street. The West Hastings theatre was known variously as the Pantages Majestic, Beacon, and Odeon Hastings. In its heyday, celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey graced its stage. It was torn down in 1967 to make a parking lot.

The East Hastings Pantages, having operated under various names and owners, including the Royal (1918-1948), State (1948-1950), Queen (1951), State (1952), Avon (1953-1972), City Nights (1973-1976) and Sun-Sing (from 1977, open irregularly), was finally closed in 1994 and has sat vacant and moldering ever since. Until now.

On April 18, 2006, a long-term lease agreement between the Pantages Theatre Arts Society, a registered non-profit, and the owner and developer Marc Williams was signed in the company of representatives from Vancouver Moving Theatre, Vancouver Cantonese Opera, and City Opera of Vancouver (who will be the resident Pantages companies). The Pantages fills a pressing need for a ‘new’ mid-size theatre in Vancouver.