Saying goodbye to the Ridge Theatre

With one final film festival, the Ridge is closing forever, its theatre turning into condos as our cultural terrain shrinks

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The changing theatre landscape shows how things can go sideways when we don’t plan for their success. We have no theatres on Granville, Schein argues, because of business decisions made elsewhere. Accidents of circumstance are partly to blame, he explains. Famous Players developed what’s now the Scotiabank Theatre, with the increasingly essential stadium seating, on Burrard Street as a replacement for Granville Street’s Capitol 6. “There was a perception in Toronto that people didn’t feel comfortable on Granville.”


Cineplex didn’t have the money to upgrade the Granville 7 when it needed to do that, and when a better-financed Cineplex acquired the more modern Scotiabank multiplex, Granville 7 became the doomed laggard that the company sold to satisfy the federal competition watchdog. It closed in November, and Toronto-based Cineplex, which also acquired the International Village multiplex, now dominates Lower Mainland movie exhibition. “Competitive zone” guidelines created by the distributors and exhibitors would prevent any new operator at the Granville 7 site from getting lucrative new releases.

Schein also believes it matters to have local movie-exhibition ownership. “A local operator started a film festival here,” he says, looking up at the Ridge lobby mural of a scene from Gone With the Wind. Local operators are more flexible employers and more attentive to customer needs. “They’re in the community, so they are more responsive to the community.”

Alan Franey, who put together the program guide for the first Vancouver International Film Festival and is now festival director and CEO, notes that in Paris in the 1970s, that city helped to underwrite the conversion of some of its treasured cinemas into multiplexes in return for their commitment to devote a portion of their programming to “arts and essays” cinema.

The diminishing theatre landscape is a big concern for VIFF. The Granville 7 was a flexible, central hub. Now Franey is looking at renting potentially expensive screens from Cineplex or temporarily converting facilities such as the Playhouse. “The city needs to take more leadership on policies that create cultural value,” Franey insists.

When Brent Toderian was Vancouver’s director of city planning, he met with some single-screen-theatre property owners, including the owner of the Ridge, hoping these cultural assets could be preserved. He believes the city needs to map its cultural assets, from neighbourhood cinemas right down to unique coffee shops, and think about the ways we can ensure that developers know what the city expects when it comes to protecting those assets—in a manner similar to city efforts to protect heritage buildings and affordable housing.

Toderian notes that money for such planning initiatives is always tight in Canadian cities, where property taxes are their only significant source of revenue. He argues, though, that it’s cheaper to be proactive. “Being reactive takes a lot of time and energy.”

Heather Deal, city council’s representative on Vancouver’s arts and culture policy council, says there is no formal initiative on cultural mapping in the works, and zoning is really the city’s key tool to protect cultural assets. She argues that it is very difficult to determine when governments should support the “for profit” cultural sector or to interfere when the sale of a property results in an unwanted change of use.

Councillor Raymond Louie, chair of the city standing committee on finance and services, told the Straight that city staff and council have opposed expanding the areas in which it provides tax relief “beyond heritage preservation or what is legally provided for organizations like schools and churches”.

In the meantime, the city moves ever closer to losing all its neighbourhood single-screen cinemas. The Dunbar will continue for now. A developer of retirement housing had his eye on the property but is instead acquiring single-family homes across the street for a proposed six-storey building. The Collingwood Cinema (formerly the Raja) on Kingsway faces a different challenge: it needs $75,000 to convert to digital technology within months, but it still won’t be able to get bankable films because it’s too close to the competing cinemas at Metrotown. The Park has a lease until September, with a three-year option to renew, but the Canada Line on Cambie makes redevelopment almost inevitable.

The Hollywood Theatre may be the most appealing opportunity to preserve a historic neighbourhood cinema as a single-screen or multiplex movie theatre because of its fabulous façade, its location, and the potential for zoning tradeoffs when the inevitable rapid transit brings more density to the Broadway corridor. The Bonnis family, however—which bought the property two years ago from the Fairleigh family, operators of the Kitsilano landmark since 1935—isn’t talking to the media about its intentions.

Whatever tools the city might eventually employ, they won’t save the Ridge. Schein is trying to find homes for a few artifacts: some vintage equipment, the huge stained-glass projector above the entrance, and the film screen’s gold-brocade curtains. Cressey will preserve the Ridge neon sign for the name of the new development. At least UBC engineering students will still be able to steal its huge letter E, as they once did to Schein’s astonishment and confusion.

Schein, who has always been an attentive custodian, has planned a fitting farewell: three or four films a day, including a sing-along Sound of Music (the film originally played at the Ridge for two years), two screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a special presentation on Thursday (January 31) of the landmark 1985 B.C. film My American Cousin.

Director Sandy Wilson remembers bringing that film to the Ridge (before its official premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival) after sound problems dogged an unofficial screening at Bumbershoot in Seattle. Ray Mainland came in early one morning to screen it for her; the sound was fine, and Wilson danced in the aisles. The movie went on to win six Genie awards, including best picture. Wilson, who based the film loosely on her own life growing up in the Okanagan, will bring her own 35mm print to the screening and will serve tea in the lobby from her Naramata grandmother’s teapot.

Schein had wanted the last picture show to be Casablanca, always his first choice to mark beginnings and endings. But the Ridge doesn’t have digital equipment, and he simply cannot get a 35mm print. “Twentieth Century Fox doesn’t even make 35mm films anymore.”

Yes, how things change. And that is why our city must respond with more foresight, vigour, and invention to support the people and places that sustain us. 

The screening of My American Cousin is a benefit to establish an education fund for the children of long-time Georgia Straight film writer Ian Caddell. Tickets for the show—on Thursday, January 31, at 7 p.m.—are $10. All other screenings, except the sing-along Sound of Music ($10) and Rocky Horror Picture Show ($12.75), are $5. Details are on the Festival Cinemas website.

Comments (32) Add New Comment
Dave L.
It is in my opinion simply pathetic that "Developers" are able to buy properties , destroy what was there and then if they haven't been able to sell their Condo's or whatever simply turn the property into a parking lot, I have seen it too many times and so have most of you.
Rating: +38
Rob Blake
Good job Charles - this theater and ALL the rest will be sorely missed.
Rating: +36
A lot of great memories of the theatre, even more so the bowling alley. F$%^ing soulless condos.
Rating: +38
Alex Chisholm
Exteriors: The Hollywood
Interiors: The Ridge
The Box Office Girl: Ex Lead Singer of the Dishrags
Rating: +35
I wish we were saying goodbye to Vision Vancouver instead.
Rating: +43
.... and people will buy/move into this development called The Ridge, and have no clue the historical, heritage background or context about where the name of their complex comes from. Sad.
Rating: +39
Andrew Morrison
Nicely written Charles.
Rating: +23
I'll miss it too, but I have to confess that I haven't been there in years. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone, and that's a big part of the problem.
Rating: +16
Scotty from Spike & Mike's.
Rating: -4
Scotty from Spike & Mikes.
But must i must say we had some of the best shows in Vancouver at this theater! RIP the Ridge and the lovely CRYING ROOM!
Rating: +36
Why does this death provoke none of the fury that accompanied the Waldorf? I would trade a 1000 Waldorfs for one Ridge!
Rating: +38
Very nice article. I'll really miss the Ridge - it was a nice walk in summer time from where I live on Cambie. I'm hoping the Park Theatre can hang in there a bit longer, as I'm there all the time as well. I wish the City had a more comprehensive plan for protecting vulnerable community assets, rather than a reactive ad-hoc method they've been doing. We are losing everything special and unique in this town at an increasingly rapid pace. Soon we'll have nothing left but bland condos.
Rating: +18
Will miss the Ridge and the Bowling alley as well. Both were within easy walking distance from my home (no carbon production!), and many happy family hours were spent watching movies, World Cup games, and enjoying bowling alley birthday parties over the years.
There is great value in such amenities, and their loss will be felt by many, for many years to come. Thanks for the memories.
Rating: +38
I'm always a little sad when a movie theatre closes. However, the Ridge has a number of problems, when not viewed through rose-coloured glasses. The theatre is too wide and deep, and the screen is very small -- if you're not sitting in the first few rows, watching a movie there is like watching TV. (And not a big TV.) If you are in the first few rows, the floor slants upward, making it more likely the person in front of you will block your view. The lobby is very narrow and becomes congested if there are more than five people in it -- and the concession sits at its narrowest point. And the bathrooms are even more cramped and inadequate. At least the seats are no longer the most uncomfortable in the city, as they were for years.
Rating: -28
Isn't it great what smartgrowth policies lead to.
Rating: +11
Good bye Waldorf. Good bye Ridge. Good bye most culturally interesting parts of our city because urban growth prefer's the "simplicity" of gentrification. Politicians prefer to channel growth towards poor neighborhoods rather than risk upsetting rich people’s views and property values. Unless poor people recognize that permitting more growth in the core is the only way to save their neighborhoods, this isn’t likely to change any time soon.
Rating: -9
If churches can get a tax break culture should too.
Rating: +17
Pio Kim
More than 10 years ago, I was passing by RIDGE everyday for 1 year by bus. I visited there just once. This morning, i got the news RIDGE says goodbye... Now I am living far from there... and I feel sorrow losing my precious memory. Bye~ ㅠㅠ
Rating: -5
Kim H
I have such fond memories standing in line on Sunday afternoons to get the `big cookie` and watch rock concert flicks. So sad to see a another Vancouver icon disappear.
Rating: +11
Darcy McGee
i'm not at all sure that showing Hollywood blockbusters like Prometheus--which I saw at The Ridge--qualifies as cultural in nature.

I'll miss the theatre, but it's been about commerce not culture since shortly after Mainland's passing. I used see films there two or three times a month.

Schein has one thing right though: the city owns too much land.
Rating: +4


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