Homeless in Vancouver: Public hearing to consider heritage status for defunct Hollywood Theatre

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      A redevelopment plan that proposes to save the 83-year-old Hollywood Theatre at 3123 West Broadway will be the subject of a public hearing at Vancouver City Hall on July 17, beginning at 6 p.m.

      The developer that owns the lot at 3123 West Broadway Street, on which the Hollywood Theatre sits, is offering to spare the theatre and, in fact, to refurbish it and guarantee its existence as a neighbourhood performing arts centre—if, that is, the City of Vancouver will waive the existing zoning restrictions and allow the developer to build a six-storey building on the lot adjacent to the west side of the Hollywood.

      According to a post on the website of the neighbourhood group that has been working to save the Hollywood Theatre, the development proposal submitted in February by 4184 Investments, Ltd., would preserve the facade and parts of the interior of the Hollywood and then some:

      The proposal would see the Hollywood Theatre’s current owner retain the Hollywood Theatre with irrevocable Heritage designation, through a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) and operate it as a for-profit entertainment/cultural venue . The HRA would transfer existing development potential of the Hollywood property to the adjacent lot, together with additional bonus density as an incentive for heritage retention and restoration. The result would be a 6-storey mixed use, commercial/residential (strata) building next door to a revitalized Hollywood Theatre.

      Highs and lows of saving a neighbourhood theatre

      The Hollywood Theatre in it’s last month as a first-run movie theatre, August 2011.
      Google Street View

      The Hollywood Theatre opened for business in 1935 and served as the Kitsilano neighbourhood’s local movie house for the next eight decades. Its life as a first-run movie theatre finally came to and end in 2011, when the building was purchased by Bonnis Properties, which finally leased it to the Point Grey Community Church in September 2012.

      The way the Hollywood looked in May 2017 and since.
      Google Street View

      For the next year, the Hollywood played host to the weekly services of the Redemption Church (aka, the “Church at the Hollywood”) and the occasional film showing. At the end of November 2013 the doors closed to everything but (irony of ironies) the occasional film crew shooting a movie scene in its vintage interior.

      Today the facade stands whitewashed and stripped of its Art Deco signage and period neon.

      So far, 3123 West Broadway Street has been the object of at least two redevelopment proposals. The first was in 2013, by Bonnis Properties, and proposed to replace the Hollywood with a fitness studio. The latest is the proposal, by 4184 Investments, Ltd., to both build a six-storey, 40-unit, condo with ground level retail and to restore the existing Hollywood Theatre building.

      The Hollywood Theatre and adjacent lots are presently zoned C-2C, which allows for a maximum building density of 3.0 FSR (the ratio of a building’s floor area to its site area) and a maximum building height of 13.8 metres (45.3 ft.).

      Any redevelopment proposal seeking height and density significantly in excess of current zoning requires a public hearing before it can be approved by city council.

      The six-storey residential tower proposed by 4184 Investments, Ltd., would rise some 10.3 metres (34 ft.), or over 74 percent above the maximum allowable height.

      And taken by itself, on its own lot, the six-storey tower (according to my math) would have an FSR of something like 4.23—43 percent above the allowable density. It is only when the floor space of the proposed residential tower is offset by the existing low-rise Hollywood Theatre, that 4184 Investment, Ltd., can claim a total density for the redevelopment of 3.19—only 6.3 percent more than is allowed under C-2C zoning.

      The Hollywood will survive only because it helps facilitate the highrise tower that the developer wants. One has to hope that this is a win-win scenario for both the developer and the neighbourhood.

      Elevation detail from redevelopment proposal by 4184 Investments, Ltd. showing the high-rise and restored Hollywood Theatre.
      4184 Investments, Ltd./Marianne Amodio Architecture Studio

      As part of its condo redevelopment plan, 4184 Investments, Ltd., pledges:

      We will re-introduce The Hollywood Theatre back into Vancouver’s consciousness by creating and operating a beautifully renovated, state-of-the-art performing arts centre dedicated to bringing the creative arts to the local community.

      The newly rejuvenated venue, explains the developer, would be available to community producers, nonprofit organizations, and special interest groups alike. It would serve as a sort of public/private community space to host everything from ticketed live music performances, live theatre, movie screenings, tech events, and corporate and private functions, as well as special free-to-the public events produced by local producers.

      The redevelopment proposal is long on promises—sketching a new Hollywood Theatre that would be all things to all people—but short on specifics.

      Nowhere, for example, does the redevelopment proposal specifically state how faithfully it would restore the exterior of the Hollywood Theatre, or whether the envisioned state-of-the-art interior would preserve any of the existing vintage fittings.

      However, a July 6 email circular from the community group working to save the Hollywood explains that the Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) being proposed by the developer would, if approved:

      Designate the exterior of the Hollywood Theatre at 3123 West Broadway Street, as well as certain interior features, which will ensure the protection of the building from inappropriate alterations and demolition in the future; and approve a Heritage Revitalization Agreement which would grant variances to the site to allow for a new six-storey mixed use building, including additional height and density.

      The email goes on to encourage anyone who considers themselves affected by the proposed HRA involving the Hollywood Theatre to come come out to the July 17 public hearing at Vancouver City Hall and have their say.

      Individuals can register in advance by phoning 604-829-4238 before 3:30 p.m. on July 17, or by e-mailing: publichearing@vancouver.ca. And registration in person takes place at the door, between 5:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., before the hearing.

      By mid-week, agenda details on the July 17 hearing should be available on the City of Vancouver’s council meetings website. General details on public hearings are available here.

      Neighbourhood theatres—a long-endangered species

      At least a few of Vancouver’s neighbourhood movie theatres have been saved from the “wrecking ball” and successfully renovated and reborn as performing-arts spaces. The first that comes to mind is the Stanley Theatre at 2750 South Granville Street.

      The Stanley was a landmark movie palace built in 1931 with all the trimmings, including a glorious pipe organ. It’s last film showing was in 1991. It was reborn seven years later, in 1998, following a painstaking, inside-and-out modernization and heritage restoration, as the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, a 650-seat performing arts venue and home of the Arts Club Theatre.

      However. the redevelopment proposal to save and recreate the Hollywood Theatre especially seems to resemble what happened with East Vancouver’s York Theatre at 639 Commercial Drive—a theatre space of one-kind-or-another going back to 1912.

      The first neighbourhood effort to save the theatre took place in 1980. But the York’s current reincarnation as a thoroughly modern, 350-seat, live performing arts venue (which opened in 2013) owes its existence to the joint efforts of developer Peter Wall’s Wall Financial Corporation, the Cultch (aka, the Vancouver East Cultural Centre), and the City of Vancouver.

      And as I write there is a down-to-the-wire effort underway to save the Rio—another East Vancouver theatre, located at 1660 E Broadway. In this case, the operators of the Rio Theatre are trying to raise the funds to buy the building outright. 

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.

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