Pantages Theatre, 152 East Hastings Street, Vancouver—


After three years of negotiation, a redevelopment plan for this historic theatre was scuttled last September when Vancouver City Council rejected a deal allowing the developer to transfer bonus density to another site. Now for sale, the potential purchaser appears uninterested in retaining the building.

Why it matters

Erected 1907-1908, the Pantages is the oldest remaining vaudeville theatre in Canada and an early example of the once renowned Pantages theatre chain. Designed by E.E. Blackmore, the building follows the trend of early theatre design with a plain office-like exterior concealing a lavish interior beyond. In the late 1920s, it was converted to a movie house and operated as such until 1994. In the following decade proposals to restore the theatre were unsuccessful. Although the interior has suffered significant damage from the leaking roof, it remains virtually intact, exhibiting elaborate plasterwork motifs and a decorative proscenium.

Why it’s endangered

Located in the middle of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the theatre’s current owner—Worthington Properties—spent nearly five years developing a plan to restore the building. It would have seen the 650-seat theatre returned to its former glory, while contributing to the revitalization of the troubled neighbourhood through the creation of 136 units of social housing in a new adjacent building.

The $26 million redevelopment plan hinged on securing municipal heritage density bonus transfers—the primary incentive tool of Vancouver’s Heritage Building Rehabilitation Program. Owing to the success of the program, rising land and construction costs, and the lack of anticipated federal incentives for heritage building rehabilitation, the density bank became oversupplied, so city council chose to temporarily suspend it in 2007.

Council still has the ability to transfer small amounts of density, but councillors chose not to exercise that right when they turned down the Worthington proposal in July 2008.

Last November’s municipal election saw many new members elected who had supported saving the building. Since then, however, the new council has had no discussion with the owner, has not completed a pivotal formal review of the project, and has shown no indication of reversing the previous council’s decision.

The drawn-out timelines for the project have taxed Worthington’s resources—it costs the company $30,000 for every month the development sits idle. Early in 2009, the company decided to cut its losses, put the theatre up for sale (listed at $8.2 million) and apply for a demolition permit.

Where Things Stand

Western Canada’s oldest vaudeville house is on the brink of demolition. Sale of the theatre is under way and the potential purchaser does not intend to retain the building.

While the theatre is on the Vancouver Heritage Register, it is not afforded the protection of heritage designation.