Vancouver's historic Hollywood Theatre is banking on more than movies to survive the pandemic

·2 min read
Vancouver's historic Hollywood Theatre is banking on more than movies to survive the pandemic

At a time when Vancouver venues are struggling, the historic Hollywood Theatre in the Kitsilano neighbourhood is banking on more than just movies to survive.

The theatre, located near Broadway and Balaclava Street, has reopened its Depression-era doors with pandemic-friendly changes.

Operator David Hawkes and his business partner Shawn Mawhinney, both Vancouver locals, painstakingly restored the theatre's art-deco charm while keeping pandemic safety top of mind.

Hakwes said they created platforms to be able to move and remove the theatre's seats — most of them originals from when the theatre opened in the 1930s — in order to create a more flexible event space.

Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC
Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC

"We ... reupholstered all of those chairs," he said. "They unbolt from the floor ... we can take them all away."

Other elements like the building's exterior paint colour, box office and it's colourful neon sign also had to be restored to the finest detail in order for the building to achieve the highest heritage status offered by the city.

"The character of it is really, really quite remarkable," said Donald Luxton, a consultant who worked on the building's heritage plan.

"It just feels like ... an updated version of itself without losing any of its character."

Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC
Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC

Preserving heritage during COVID-19

Hawkins' original plans to start running movies as well as arts and culture events last fall were shattered due to COVID-19.

Right now, the theatre is open for drinks, but will not be operating as a cinema while B.C. health restrictions are in place.

However, Hawkes doesn't want the building to just be known for showing films.

He's hoping that creating a space to host a wider variety of arts and culture events will help keep this era of the theatre's history alive.

"If we were just a theater, we would have been pigeonholed into one thing and then, economically, it just wouldn't work," he said.

"The idea here is to be flexible … if you're a one-trick pony, you're not going to survive."

Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC
Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC

Hakwes added he hopes the building's classic neon sign will become a symbol of resilience in a post-pandemic Vancouver.

"We have a history of rolling over ... and paving over our history [in Vancouver]," he said.

"We decided to open because it's a little bit of a ray of good, good hope coming, showing that things are coming to be better over time."

Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC
Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC