100-Year-Old Vancouver Theatre Reopens for the Holidays

Photo credit: Uncleweed | Flickr

Photo credit: Uncleweed | Flickr

In an era when Vancouver is losing cultural institutions right and left – from the old Pantages Theatre in East Van to the Ridge Theatre on the West Side – here’s one historic venue that refused to bite the dust.

The old York Theatre on Commercial Drive, which dates to 1913, reopens this week after sitting idle for decades and narrowly escaping demolition.  It’s first show will be, appropriately enough, a Christmas pantomime about the hardy spirit of East Vancouver called Jack and the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto.

The twisted saga of the York was recounted in a great Vancouver Sun article this week by Mark Leiren-Young.  It opened more than a century ago as the Alcazar Theatre at the north end of Commercial Drive, with a comedy called Too Much Johnson.  In 1940 it was renamed the York and featured performances by the Vancouver Little Theatre Association for more than 50 years.

Then came the hard times.  In more recent decades, the theatre was pressed into service as a movie house, rental hall and finally Bollywood cinema called the Raja.  And finally, the developers swooped in.  In 2008, the York was days from demolition to make way for new townhouses when the determined efforts of the Save the York Society finally bore fruit.  Historical status was granted and a $12-million renovation began.

Now, just a few weeks after its 100th birthday, the York reopens with a feisty Christmas production of Jack and the Beanstalk, Dec. 4-Dec. 29.  The show is a good old pantomime – the goofy British genre, popular around the holidays, that sees familiar stories, legends and fairytales retold with plenty of irony, silly humour, cross-dressing and audience participation.

In this production, the familiar Jack and the Beanstalk story is updated to East Van realities, with a hydroponic beanstalk and magic beans peddled by a real estate developer.  In his adventures, Jack is seduced by the prospect of glitzy condos in the clouds only to come to appreciate the charms of his rough-around-the-edges East Vancouver home.

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