The Venue: The Orpheum

The Venue is a profile series from Laura Murray Public Relations that ventures behind the scenes of Metro Vancouver’s foremost arts and culture venues, diving into the past and unveiling the unique stories and events that have made an indelible impact on our city’s creative community.

 

This week we spoke with Rob Haynes, president of the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame.

Today a vibrant concert hall and National Historic Site, Vancouver’s iconic Orpheum once had a very uncertain future.

Opened in 1927 as a vaudeville house, the Orpheum became a movie and live performance theatre in 1935, under the new ownership of Famous Players. While a hub of cultural activity for many decades (hosting Hollywood’s biggest celebrities, including W.C. FieldsBob Hope, and Marilyn Monroe), attendance at the Orpheum had dwindled by the early 70s. Famous Players pledged to gut the venue in favour of developing a modern multiplex in its place.

Vancouver’s performing arts community, however, rallied to save one of the last remaining bastions of old world glamour.

Many similar theatres had already been lost in Vancouver, notes Rob Haynes, president of the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame.

“People thought, ‘We’ve lost so much, let’s not let this happen again,’” he notes. “It was a very grassroots effort.”

A public plea and fundraiser started within the theatre community, and quickly expanded to the general public, resulting in the purchase of the building by the City of Vancouver, with the help of both the provincial and federal governments, in 1974.

The building was closed and renovated into a world-class concert hall, becoming the resident home to the Vancouver Symphony OrchestraVancouver Bach Choir, and Vancouver Chamber Choir.

Haynes, who regularly offers tours to private groups year-round and tourists in the summer months, notes the Orpheum never ceases to amaze its visitors.

“There is something absolutely magical about it,” he notes. “The whole building is built around the selling of dreams; you’re transported into another world.”

The Orpheum will whisk patrons to 19th century Paris on Saturday, April 20, with the multimedia world premiere of The Phantom of the Opera, presented by the Vancouver Bach Choir. Tickets start at $25.

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