The York Theatre renovation is the result of a decades long struggle to save a historic community theatre from demolition.
Originally built in 1913 as the Alcazar Theatre, the building changed identities numerous times over its storied 100-year history. Ten years after it first opened, it was purchased by the Vancouver Little Theatre Association, (Canada’s oldest continuously operating community theatre company), which reopened it as the ‘Little Theatre’. Then a major renovation, introducing an art deco style exterior, led to its re-launch in 1940 as the York Theatre.
Over the years that followed, the building’s appearance and uses continued to evolve. It hosted everything from live theatre, to Bollywood movie screenings, to punk and grunge rock concerts (performers included Nirvana, Sonic Youth, D.O.A. and the Dead Kennedys).
In 2007, a developer purchased the theatre site and had a building permit to construct a three-storey, five-unit townhouse development. After two decades of community activism, the theatre was again a target for demolition, and was listed on Heritage Vancouver’s 2008 Top Ten Endangered sites.
However, a feasibility study conducted by the team at Henriquez Partners Architects, in collaboration with Jim Green & Associates, demonstrated the viability of reinvesting in the theatre. As a result, the City of Vancouver added financial backing to enable the rehabilitation to proceed.
Hired on to undertake the renovation, Henriquez Partners Architects’ revival of the York Theatre involved fully restoring the entry to match the 1940 art deco façade, completely renovating the theatre space to again serve as a performance venue, and adding a new, modern two-storey glass lobby.
The performance space features 365 seats, a traditional proscenium arch, a fly tower, a balcony and an orchestra pit. Christopher Gaze, (artistic director of Bard on the Beach) noted while touring the renovated facility: “the acoustics are excellent”.
The intention of the expanse of glass featured in the new lobby design is to make the theatre feel open and accessible for people in the community, and to animate the street life on Commercial Drive. The vibrant red tile, adorning the lobby exterior and sourced from a local BC company, frames the crowd within, and serves as a metaphor for the real performances unfolding inside, (the red tile echoing the stage curtain, and the audience becoming the actors).
The restored theatre is now operated by the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (CULTCH) and is expected to enhance the community’s identity as a cultural hub. On the eve of its official reopening on December 7, 2013, The Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, stated: “this 100-year-old historical gem will undoubtedly solidify the local area as a major cultural district. Arts and culture organizations like the York Theatre not only contribute to the vitality of our communities, but also enrich the quality of life of all Canadians.