I had the joy of joining one of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s walking tours. My work allows me to have Fridays off and I finally found an event I can attend on a Friday. This fall, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation is organizing two-part historic walks of Hastings Street. I missed part one in September, which was the Hastings West walk, but I jumped all over this Hastings East walk last Friday.
As we neared Main Street, we arrived at a big demolition site. Maurice described very well the tragedy that has taken place on this site. I actually recently acquired some leftover photos from the Vancouver Archives of this very demolition site. I linked to the online copy at the Archives.
There’s 3 or 4 smaller buildings all lit up in their hey day. The Pantages Theatre is clearly marked just behind the smaller buildings and then the taller Regent Hotel just behind the theatre. This theatre was the Original Pantages theatre built in 1908. This was the first theatre in Vancouver. According to History of Vancouver, it was the oldest remaining Pantages Theatre in North America.
Now, those small buildings have been torn on this site, including one little cafe, the Blue Eagle. The only evidence left for us to see was the old tile that used to mark the entrance of the cafe. It was such a beautiful tile, we were all quite disappointed to see that it was hacked into pieces and thrown into a pile of rubble. Fortunately, Maurice discovered from a foreman on site that the remaining tile will be sent to the Vancouver Museum. So this unique tilework will be saved, but why didn’t they keep it in one piece to start?
On the sidewalk, a lot of chalk writing could be found. It was clear here that the neighbourhood did not welcome this demolition. However, the buildings were likely in a very bad state of neglect. Neglect seems to be a common theme for many buildings along Hastings in the Downtown Eastside.
On the eastern end of the demolition site, a lone building was still standing. Maurice suggested that we take a look at the back of the remains of the Pantages for a better look. The group overwhelmingly agreed and we circled to the back alley behind the demolition site. We were greeted by some locals hanging around the garbage bin. They thought we might be lost and offered to give directions.
Halfway down the alley, the fencing of the demolition extended out and blocked the alleyway. We walked right up to the fencing and were greeted with a glimpse of the interior of the Pantages. You can tell it was meant to be a grand theatre with the golden trim still visible from the outside. One of my fellow walkers mused how his parents used to bring him here as a kid to watch Chinese movies. Apparently, the building had a run as a Chinese movie house for a time. It’s the tiny, yet interesting personal factoids that I love to hear.
Maurice sadly stated that it is ironic that on the 125th anniversary of the founding of the City of Vancouver that we are tearing down the city’s very first theatre. Expanding on the sad state of the Pantages in the past couple of decades, he tells us that one night that a couple of men were trying to break open a street parking meter. How they even got their hands on a street parking meter must be an entirely different story on its own. The men were on top of the adjacent Regent Hotel and thought it would be a good idea to throw the meter down onto the roof of the Pantages to break the meter open. Well, the Pantages has been in such a state of disrepair that the parking meter broke straight through the roof of the theatre. It’s terribly sad how we treat what should be a historic gem in the city.
In the last stretch of our walk along Hastings East, we are introduced to the late Verna Simard and the Carnegie Library.
- Vancouver Heritage Foundation
- Vancouver Archives – Photographs
- The History of Metropolitan Vancouver – The Pantages in Vancouver