The Pantages Theatre

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The office-like exterior hid an eleaborate Interior
The Pantages Theatre

I took a drive past the Pantages Theatre at East Hastings and Main yesterday. It was pouring with rain and the Downtown Eastside looked even bleaker than normal, like something out of a Dostoevsky novel.

It’s hard to imagine that this skuzzy part of town was once the central business district, but go back a century and the Pantages was part of a thriving theatre district and downtown core.


The Street Directories of 1908—the first time the Pantages Theatre appears by name—show the theatre surrounded by clothing companies, real estate offices and coffee houses.

Over the years, several groups have fought to save the former vaudeville theatre, one of a North American chain owned by Alexander Pantages. Our Pantages Theatre was the second that he built–his first opened in Seattle and no longer exists.

According to John Mackie the theatre was converted into a movie house in the late 1920s, and has gone by several names including the Royal, State, Queen, Avon, City Nights and the Sung Sing.

Demolition Order

bulldozers wait behind buildings on East Hastings Street
Behind the Pantages Theatre April 10, 2011

This poor old pile of bricks has sat vacant since 1994—left to rot from the inside out. Attempts to hash out a deal with the city to restore the theatre failed, and to no one’s surprised, the city issued a demolition order last Thursday.

Heritage Vancouver calls it “demolition by neglect.”

You can’t see it from the street, but when I wandered down the back alley you can see the bulldozers have already pulled down everything behind the neighbouring buildings. What’s tragic is that there’s no development plan in place, we’ll be left with another gaping hole. Now it’s only a matter of days until it all comes down, and it will be just like it never was.

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

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  1. Back in the mid ‘70s I worked part-time at the City Nights to defray UBC tuition. Double features were the stock in trade. After selling tickets for the first flick, I could hit the books knowing only a straggler or three might approach the wicket. Meanwhile, Debbie Vegsund got the popcorn and confections ready for intermission.

    It really was a grand old place, but starting to come apart at the seams. Infiltrating moisture never sleeps. A feisty lady called Arlo Watson and her husband and brother-in-law owned the theatre and installed an operations manager named David.

    Shortly before I quit to take a better gig at UBC’s main library, the theatre (i.e. yours truly in the box office) was held up. The perp got rattled and his gun went off. Luckily it was a pellet gun. Luckier still, the pellet went wild, whizzing by my ear.

  2. How could I forget! The projectionist at the City Nights was Dick Pantages. He was a descendant of the famous family that built the theatre, the ill-fated Vaudeville house down the street and similar showplaces around North America. In between reel changes, it was great to shoot the breeze with Dick. Even in winter, he always wore a white tee-shirt. The projection booth felt like a sauna from heat thrown off by the machinery. Verging on dangerous, too, as electrical arcs leapt off the apparatus! Down below, cinephiles and spliff-sneaking counterculturalists watched as edgy flicks like Zabriskie Point hit the screen.

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