York Theatre History

Although audiences, in the late 1970’s, were diminishing somewhat, Vancouver Little Theatre Association had no plans to sell the York Theatre. Indeed, their intention was to reshape it. The Chief Stage Carpenter at the time was a draughtsman for the prestigous architectural firm of Thompson, Berwick and Pratt, and he came up with a plan that would have seen the curve of the balcony, from back to front, continue in a downward sweep towards the stage, creating space for a small studio theatre underneath where the present ground floor auditorium is. This would have reduced the total number of seats in the main theatre but given every seat excellent sight-lines. Smaller experimental productions would have had a home in the Studio and groups such as the Vancouver Folk Music Society could have met there.

When plans for this suggested modification were submitted to Vancouver City Hall, the Planning Department pounced. They stated that, by applying to make the changes, the Vancouver Little Theatre Association could now be forced to bring the building up to modern code, which meant earthquake reinforcement of the walls and numerous other substantial structural changes that drove the costs from an estimated $200,000 to well over $1 million, way out of reach for an amateur theatre company. They also posted a notice on the doors that barred the Society from using it as a theatre until the building had been brought up to code.

At that point, the Society had no option but to sell the building. They couldn’t afford the enforced changes and they couldn’t operate from it either. It became, as cited, a movie house for Indian movies. Ironically, the new owner was not compelled to change the building structurally in any way for this purpose.

Terry Marshall
June 22, 2011

The history of the York Theatre’s transformation into a movie theatre misses an important fact. Approximately a year before the sale, the Vancouver Little Theatre Association was planning to renovate. One of our set builders, Bill Smith, worked with Thompson, Berwick and Pratt, one of Vancouver’s premier architectural practices. He undertook plans that would have seen the balcony extended in a continuous downward curve to stage level, reducing the number of seats but creating a studio theatre for rehearsals and smaller, more intimate productions in the area beneath. The cost would have been high but manageable.

However, as soon as the plans were filed, the City of Vancouver ordered an inspection of the building and insisted that before the doors could be opened again, the theatre had to be brought up to modern code standards, which included earthquake bracing and numerous other major structural changes which were totally beyond the ability of the Vancouver Little Theatre Association to afford. They could not re-open and they could not make the changes demanded and so the theatre was sold.

The real question is why was it then permitted to open again as a movie theatre without any of the specified upgrades being carried out, which were called for, presumably, in the name of public safety?

Terry Marshall
August 4, 2015