The Orpheum's regular vaudeville programming lasted only 4 years before the economic constraints of the Great Depression, the collapse of the Orpheum Circuit and its successors, and changing public taste forced a capitulation to the movie moguls. Still, the Orpheum continued to host live shows and concerts occasionally. The parade of stars who crossed its stage from the 1930s to the 1970s included Marian Anderson, Arthur Rubinstein, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra. The memorable entertainment they provided, the participation of local talent, and the many attention-grabbing promotions launched at movie premieres and other special occasions by manager Ivan Ackery from 1935 to 1970 ensured a vital awareness and appreciation of the Orpheum in the Vancouver community, which strongly rallied to its defence in 1973 when the theatre was threatened with demolition. After 2 years of fund-raising, restoration and renovation work began in 1975 under THOMPSON, BERWICK, PRATT AND PARTNERS.
Today the Orpheum displays much of its original splendour despite some loss of detail and some updating for acoustics and patron comfort. Its style is an exuberant and eclectic mix of Romanesque, Moorish, Gothic and Spanish Renaissance elements, making it Canada's best example of the exotic phase of movie architecture which was the fashion in the larger cinemas of North America in the late 1920s. Disparate elements are linked through the effective use of repetition. The overlapping arches that encircle the ceiling, for instance, visually link the oval dome to the curves of the organ screens on either side of the elliptical proscenium arch. Originally devoid of decoration, the plaster dome was covered with acoustic tiles when talking films were introduced (1928), but these were removed in the 1970s restoration and the opportunity was taken to create a stunning mural in it. Eighty-one-year-old Tony Heinsbergen, the theatre's original decorator, was engaged to paint a classical-based representation of Orpheus and an assembled throng enraptured by his music, now a focal point of the auditorium. The mighty Wurlitzer organ, mounted on a hydraulic lift, was restored by volunteers from the American Theatre Organ Society.
Leading to the auditorium from a fairly narrow main entrance on Granville Street was a series of long corridors, grand staircases and lobbies. This typical layout in movie theatres of the period was intended to minimize the expense of a broad street frontage, while taking advantage of the cheaper real estate for the building's main volume behind. The arrangement also functioned as a theatrical setting for patrons as they moved through the opulent spaces, as if players in an unfolding drama. In 1983, a new entrance and foyer were created on Smithe Street, something the original builders had also planned, and in 1995 the theatre underwent an acoustic upgrade.
The VANCOUVER SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, which had its historical beginnings in the Orpheum in 1930, has been the main tenant since the re-opening in 1977. For its use, and that of other large groups, the stage was enlarged by extending it beyond the proscenium arch and over the former orchestra pit, eliminating the first 2 rows of seats.
In 1994 a "Starwalk" was incorporated by the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame into the sidewalk near the Orpheum Theatre. Round bronze plaques naming BC residents and others who have made outstanding contributions to entertainment are embedded into the walk, and indoors there is a "Starwall" hung with photos of Hall of Fame members.
In preparation for hosting a number of events in the Cultural Olympiad before the 2010 Olympic Games, the Orpheum Revitalization Project to restore and refurbish the Orpheum Theatre began in 2008. Among the changes are new seating, sound and light locks, and interior signage redesign.
The theatre remains a much-loved concert space and an architectural gem that has been recognized as a National Historic Site.
Author JOAN MATTIE
Links to Other Sites
Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance
The website for the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance. Offers information about Vancouver theatre venues and programs.
BC Entertainment Hall of Fame
The B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame honours BC residents who attained outstanding success in the world of entertainment.
Community Arts Council of Vancouver
The Community Arts Council of Vancouver promotes heritage preservation and the development of the city's lively cultural community. Their website offers the latest cultural news and links to a variety of galleries, theatres, and related organizations.