Saving History: The Lost Scrapbooks from the Marco Polo

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By Tom Carter

Tom Carter is an artist, a musician, a historian, and a private collector. He has kindly agreed to write a guest blog about one of his most exciting finds.

There are some “holy grails” out there in Vancouver entertainment history—stuff we fantasize about that still exists somewhere. I still can’t believe I landed one of the biggest of them—the owner’s scrapbooks from the Marco Polo!

The Marco Polo, a club deep within Chinatown, was one of Vancouver’s legendary nightclubs. In the ‘60s it was considered one of the “big three” along with The Cave on Hornby and Isy’s Supper Club on Georgia. While posters, cards and ephemera are pretty common from The Cave and Isy’s, the Marco Polo has long been shrouded in mystery.

Over the years there have been rumours of scrapbooks kept by Victor Louie, manager and one of the Louie brothers who owned the club. They had become a legend among collectors like Jason Vanderhill and Jim Wong-Chu who have been hunting them for years.

What we knew was that Victor Louie had loaned the scrapbooks to Jason Karman when he was researching a film about Harvey Lowe in the early 1990s. Lowe was a yo-yo champion, owner of the Smilin’ Buddha and  a staple of the Chinatown entertainment scene with connections to the Marco Polo.

After Karman returned the scrapbooks they  vanished!

Then, last year, they miraculously resurfaced when a dealer I know bought the scrapbooks from a picker who had pulled them out of the garbage behind a warehouse in Chinatown. (A “picker” is someone who combs through junk in alleys, dumpsters, etc. looking for things of value to sell to antique dealers).

The dealer told me he planned to dismantle the books and sell off the bits—effectively destroying their historical value.

Instead, I bought everything.

When I got the scrapbooks home, I discovered photos of musicians on stage and chorus girls. There were menus and handbills and all sorts of letters from clients. Harvey Lowe had produced and emceed the opening show, and I found his script. There was even a handwritten listing of every act that played the club from 1964 to 1968!

These scrapbooks form a more-or-less complete history of the Marco Polo from 1960 when the Louie’s took over the Forbidden City and renamed it, through to 1982 when the original Chinatown club closed and moved to North Vancouver.

Everything is now photographed, and with the assistance of BC PAMA  and the UBC School of Library Archival and Information Studies, the entire contents of the scrapbooks will eventually be online.

Tom Carter has been painting historical views of Vancouver for many years with artwork in prominent private and corporate collections. Tom serves on the boards of the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame, Friends of the Vancouver Archives and the Vancouver Historical Society. You can read more about his work in Vancouver Confidential “Nightclub Czars of Vancouver and the Death of Vaudeville.”

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14 comments

  1. I worked at CP Transport located at 44 W Pender. It was a short walk to the Marco Polo and the buffet was a favorite. Every time we ate the owner would give us a shot of scotch. My wife and I took our two year old there for diner. Were lucky the owner was patient as our screaming two year old drowned out the band. We didnt take him out to diner for many years after that evening. We still remember the Marco Polo as a high lite of working that close to China Town. The crab in black bean sauce was the best ever.

  2. Amazing! Some of the names on the list of entertainers are of people who would later appear in or produce some epic 70’s TV sitcoms – Redd Foxx, Pat Morita, Gary Marshall.

  3. I remember being taken to a Temptations concert at the Kerrisdale arena and then topping off the evening with Sam & Dave at the Marco Polo! Best date ever!

  4. What an incredibly cool find ! Thanks for sharing it ! I remember going to the Marco Polo for dinner with my Aunt when I was a kid in the late 50’s. It was a beautiful restaurant- but I wasn’t aware that it was also a nightclub !

  5. WHAT A FIND!!! My parents, Harry & Mary Tuey were close friends with some of those names.
    I just remember stories that they used to tell me when I was a child.

  6. Wow! Never head of this piece of entertainment history, but I sure am envious as a fellow collector of Vancouver items. To think these scrapbooks were in the garbage.

  7. And you would play for 2 weeks. 6 nights a weak.
    Love it. I played there a couple of times.
    I’d like to see the entertainment list for 69 and 70.

  8. What a wonderful result, Tom! Congratulations to the picker first and to all those involved in preserving this piece of local history. I think the chorus girls get some credit too, for reminding us that heritage preservation is so much more than buildings and art objects.

    The story of the almost loss reminds me of the African proverb that says when a old person dies, a library burns down.

    This extends to relatives throwing out the memorabilia after a person dies.

    I trust the internet will make it easier for thoughtful people to connect vulnerable ephemera with collectors and institutions.

  9. I lived next door to Alex Louie who ran the Marco Polo with his brother Victor and have many fond stories about the club. I was a young guy just starting out in life and one of my visits to the Marco Polo was to see the wonderful singer Gigi Galon. Alex introduced me to her and we ended up going on a date. Then she was gone back to the US to chase her career.

    I would love to run into her now and share a memory or two.

  10. i saw sam and dave at the marco polo. was a fantastic show and i even got their autographs….as a matter of fact, still have them. ah, the memories of a fantastic era in chinatown 🙂

  11. My mom’s first cousin was married to Victor Louie. When I was a child our family occasionally went to the Marco Polo for special family dinners or when out-of-town guests came to visit. Every time we went there my siblings and I asked to have the ‘smorgasbord’ food and were always told, ‘No, that’s for the loh fan’ (or white people). We always ate a wonderful variety of traditional Chinese dishes. The atmosphere was dark and had an exotic feel. I loved to go there and have very fond memories of those days gone by.

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