We may not hear Vancouver referred to as “Hollywood North” so much anymore. But don’t be surprised if you suddenly start hear people in Kitsilano referring excitedly to “Hollywood West”.
Monday morning (January 27) I saw an unmistakable sign that the West Side neighbourhood’s 85-year-old landmark Hollywood Theatre, at 3123 West Broadway, is finally coming back to life.
The sign I saw was, in fact, a facsimile restoration of the theatre’s original, Art Moderne-style, red neon, and white-painted tin exterior signage.
It was being hauled westbound through the 1400 block of West Broadway, on the back of a flatbed truck, in the direction of the old Hollywood Theatre.
Horray for Hollywood! The show must go on—and all that jazz
The rebirth of the Hollywood comes nearly eight years after the theatre was purchased by Bonnis Properties in late 2011—when it ended it’s 76-year history as a first run movie house—and over six years after it closed its doors to the public in November 2013, as a venue of any sort.
As per a development proposal submitted in February 2018 by 4184 Investments, Ltd., and agreed to by the City of Vancouver six months later in July, the Hollywood Theatre will be given at least an external heritage restoration and operated as a community arts venue, showcasing live theatre, music, and motion pictures.
Everything appears to be proceeding as predicted in a 2018 post of the website belonging to the neighbourhood group that worked to save the Hollywood Theatre:
“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.”
Exciting sign for Kitsilano but not yet electrifying
The Hollywood Theatre’s original neon sign was made in 1935 by the Walburn Neon Company. Walburn disappeared well over 40 years ago in an amalgamation with Wallace Neon Limited—manufacturer of some of the city’s most fondly-remembered signage, including the legendary Smilin’ Buddah neon sign. Wallace, in turn, was bought up by Sicon Signs in 1976.
The meticulous re-creation of the Hollywood’s vintage neon sign that I saw Monday was actually the proud work of Richmond-based Mainland Signs, according to an email forwarded from Jasbir Sandhu, former NDP MP for Surrey North (2011-15), who was involved with the Hollywood sign project.
The email quotes Paul Dobson, Operations Manager at Mainland Signs:
“We took great pride in fabricating the Hollywood sign and the entire process required a lot of expertise and coordination. Mainland Signs has been working on this project for over a year and it is great to be contributing to the preservation of Vancouver’s history. I look forward to telling my grandchildren that Mainland Signs was a key part of the restoration of this historic sign.”
According to an email from David Hawkes, one of the operators of the new Hollywood Theatre, Monday’s plan was simply to mount the newly refurbished Hollywood Theatre sign to the front of the theatre. Hooking it up to power will wait on city approval.
When the approximately six-metre tall sign is finally lit up, Hawkes explained, “it will glow as before with the classic red you get from true neon gas”.
Hawkes closed his email with this fun fact: when the Hollywood Theatre opened in 1935, its sign was the first in the city to be permanently attached to a building—thus eliminating unsightly cables and wires—according to a boast by its maker, the Walburn Neon Company!
Hollywood endings take many actors and much money
Similar public-private initiatives have previously helped save at least three of Vancouver’s landmark neighbourhood movie theatres from the wrecker’s ball.
In 1997-98 the Fairview neighbourhood’s Stanley Theatre (which closed in 1990, after 60 years as a first-run theatre) was meticulously renovated and successfully reborn as the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.
The York Theatre, on Commercial Drive, similarly gained a new lease on life in 2013—literally 100 years since it opened as the Alcazar in 1913. After coming within a hair of being demolished in 2008 the derelict theatre was finally restored as a community arts venue. This came through the combined efforts of the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (a.k.a., the Cultch) and developer Bruno Wall, who, according to the Vancouver Sun, earned a tidy density credit equivalent to a 20-storey building—to be “applied to a future Wall project”.
And in 2018 the owners of then 80-year-old Rio Theatre, at 1660 East Broadway, successfully raised the $3.8 million needed to buy control of their building, thanks to a huge crowdfunding effort and a small, $375,000 grant from the City of Vancouver. One string said to be attached to the city’s money was that the theatre must continue to be used as a cinema and live music venue for the next decade. Luckily, that just happens to be the hearts desire of both the Rio’s owners and its patrons.