Henriquez Partners Architects revive Vancouver’s historic York Theatre

The recent York Theatre renovation is the result of a decades-long struggle to save a historic community theatre from demolition. Originally built in 1913 as the Alcazar Theatre, the building changed identities numerous times over its storied 100-year history. Ten years after it first opened, it was purchased by the Vancouver Little Theatre Association, (Canada’s oldest continuously operating community theatre company), which then reopened it as the Little Theatre. Some years later, a major renovation introduced an Art Deco exterior, leading to its relaunch in 1940 as the York Theatre.

Over the years that followed, the building’s appearance and uses continued to evolve. It hosted everything from live theatre to Bollywood movie screenings to punk and grunge rock concerts; performers included Nirvana, Sonic Youth, D.O.A. and the Dead Kennedys.

In 2007, a developer purchased the theatre site and had a building permit to construct a three-storey five-unit townhouse development. After two decades of community activism, the theatre was again a target for demolition, and was listed on Heritage Vancouver’s 2008 Top Ten Endangered sites.

However, a feasibility study conducted by the team at Henriquez Partners Architects, in collaboration with Jim Green & Associates, demonstrated the viability of reinvesting in the theatre. As a result, the City of Vancouver added financial backing to enable the rehabilitation to proceed, and Canadian Heritage provided an additional $1.8 million.

Hired on to undertake the renovation, Henriquez Partners Architects’ revival of the 6,171-square-foot York Theatre involved fully restoring the entry to match the 1940 Art Deco façade, completely renovating the theatre space to again serve as a performance venue, and adding a new modern two-storey glass lobby.

The performance space features 365 seats, a traditional proscenium arch, a fly tower, a balcony and an orchestra pit. Artistic director of Bard on the Beach Christopher Gaze noted while touring the renovated facility: “the acoustics are excellent.”

The intention of the expanse of glass featured in the new lobby design is to make the theatre feel open and accessible for people in the community, and to animate the street life on Commercial Drive. The vibrant red tile, adorning the lobby exterior and sourced from a local BC company, frames the crowd within, and serves as a metaphor for the real performances unfolding inside: the red tile echoes the richly coloured stage curtain, and the audience become the actors.

The restored theatre is now operated by the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (CULTCH) and is expected to enhance the community’s identity as a cultural hub. On the eve of its official reopening in December 2013, the Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, stated: “this 100-year-old historical gem will undoubtedly solidify the local area as a major cultural district. Arts and culture organizations like the York Theatre not only contribute to the vitality of our communities, but also enrich the quality of life of all Canadians.”

For more information, please visit http://henriquezpartners.com/work/york-theatre/