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Orpheum celebrates 90 years of star-studded stage, lavish-looking architecture

Last Updated Nov 9, 2017 at 6:54 am PDT


November 24th gala will celebrate nearly a century of the Orpheum Theatre

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The Orpheum is returning to its roots and transporting audiences back in time as it celebrates 90 years of music, comedy and theatre in downtown Vancouver with a grand gala this month.

The Nov. 24 gala will take theatre-goers back to the venue’s early days with live music, silent movies and vaudeville entertainment.

“They can expect a spectacle really,” BC Entertainment Hall of Fame‘s Doug Cameron said. “People are encouraged to come in costume of the 1920s.”

Ticket holders will enjoy a red carpet entrance, Disney’s 1928 silent animated film, Steamboat Willie accompanied by Michael Dirk on the Mighty Wurlitzer organ, tap dance and circus shows, and a screening of Buster Keaton’s silent film, The Blacksmith, accompanied by Maestro Bramwell Tovey on the piano.

Tickets for the gala cost $19.27, in tribute to the theatre’s opening year.

Once one among more than 30 theatres like it in Vancouver, the Orpheum is the only theatre of its kind left in the city, and is a home to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) and the only working Wurlitzer pipe organ still in a Canadian theatre. At a cost of $1.25 million, the venue officially opened its doors on Nov. 8, 1927, charging 25 cents for a day time ticket and 50 cents for an evening screening that included a movie and vaudeville show.

The theatre came about not only right before the great depression, but during a time of change, Cameron said.

“Prohibition was over, people were looking for entertainment, they were looking for something to motivate them and to be in a grand area was really nice and people could forget about the worries of the day,” Cameron said.

The Orpheum Theatre (NEWS 1130 File Photo)


The high-cost of taxes and real estate led to the rather small main entrance on Granville Street. To compensate, guests were greeted by a luxurious narrow hallway, adorned with mirrors on the walls to give the illusion of space and large crowds.

The facility also boasted a then state-of-the-art air conditioning system.

Despite being built largely with concrete and plaster, the Orpheum’s ornate-looking architecture, beautiful acoustics, and grandiose chandeliers and dome present an air of class and fortune.

“Imagine being able to come and forget your troubles in such a spectacular environment,” Cameron said.

Famous Players eventually bought the theatre in the mid-1930s, but by the 1970s, decided to gut the building and turn the one stage into a multiplex, much to the displeasure of many local residents.

“The reason we have it today is that the people of Vancouver got together with the City, and in order to provide a home for the VSO, the federal and provincial governments kicked in some money towards it as well.”

All in, the renovations and restorations cost more than $7.1 million, but the theatre was saved and continues to host some of the biggest names in show business when they visit Vancouver.

The facility is now managed by Vancouver Civic Theatres.