Hollywood Theatre remains threatened

Thursday, May 8, 2014: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Church purchase leaves theatre heritage at risk; City ownership still the best option


The Save the Hollywood Theatre Coalition, that has led a public campaign to protect the theatre, is concerned that the Point Grey Community Church plan for the Hollywood would neither secure the theatre’s heritage nor realize its fullest potential as a public arts and culture venue.

The community advocates for:

  1. full heritage designation of the Hollywood Theatre exterior, interior and theatre use;
  2. having a community-based, arms-length group responsible for overseeing programming of the theatre through a community-use agreement; and
  3. ensuring any bonus density or other incentives granted result both in heritage protection and flexible community use in perpetuity.

The Church has not indicated their proposal includes these basic requirements for community support.

The Coalition’s plan has been outlined in our document “Reinventing the Hollywood“. This outlines the option to revitalize the Hollywood as a vibrant arts and cultural centre that the City could acquire at a reasonable cost. It would be operated as a self-supporting non-profit society in the model of Kitsilano ‘s St. James Community Square which has operated independently for 20 years as a community cultural venue.

St. James and arts organizations across the city have expressed support for the Coalition’s vision to save the Hollywood. Heritage Vancouver Society has very strongly supported full heritage designation of the Hollywood exterior, interior and theatre use.

Steve Edge, who has been Artistic Director of the Rogue Folk Club for 27 years, said “Vancouver has very little in mid-sized performance venues between 400 and 1,000 seats. The Hollywood would fill this niche with an affordable 500 – 600 seat venue for community arts groups, theatres, and concert presenters that is much needed.”

The Coalition also has an extensive business plan that outlines how this can be accomplished which is soon to be released.

For further information on this issue, please see this background document.


Point Grey Community Church’s offer to purchase leaves the theatre at risk

Backgrounder for our press release of May 8, 2014.

The Save the Hollywood Coalition is raising concerns around recent news of a purchase agreement announced by the Point Grey Community Church (PGCC). The Church’s press release on May 1st revealed that it is planning to purchase the Hollywood Theatre, subject to sale of other assets and additional confidential conditions being negotiated with the current owner. The release stated, in part, that such a purchase would provide the Church with “the opportunity to continue engaging with local community programs, cultural events and initiatives.”

But according to the Save the Hollywood Theatre Coalition, that has led a public campaign to protect the theatre, the Church’s plan for the Hollywood would neither secure the theatre’s heritage nor realize its fullest potential as a public arts and culture venue. Most importantly, there is no mention whatsoever of formal heritage designation. On the contrary, the Coalition understands, on the basis of a recent meeting with PGCC representatives, that the Church is contemplating major changes to the Hollywood’s interior, including addition of a partial second floor extending well into the auditorium. In addition to transforming the theatre’s heritage interior, the modification would remove the projection room and effectively end use of the Hollywood’s 35 mm projection system. These contemplated modifications are inconsistent with heritage preservation and amount to a significant change of use.

The Coalition appreciates the Church’s efforts to promote the Hollywood’s heritage and raise its profile in the period following the theatre’s closure in 2011. But the Hollywood is a theatre, not a church – and the Church’s priority is its religious ministry, not heritage preservation or arts and entertainment. Vancouver’s westside communities already benefit from a wealth of churches and other religious institutions, but there is a critical and ever-growing shortage of arts and culture capacity. The Hollywood Theatre represents a unique opportunity to resist the trend and rebuild our vanishing cultural landscape.

The Coalition is concerned that the Hollywood will be effectively converted into a private church hall with it only being available to the community and arts groups on the side at the Church’s discretion.

The Save the Hollywood Theatre Coalition’s plan

In contrast, the Coalition’s vision for reinventing the Hollywood as a heritage-designated, public arts and culture venue would embrace the Hollywood’s past as a key element of its future. Heritage-sensitive renovations of stage and lobby areas would create a more vibrant and versatile theatre/performance space while respecting the Hollywood’s architectural integrity. Similarly, 35 mm film would continue to be a prominent part of the Hollywood’s program alongside the latest in digital cinematography.

In ongoing discussions with City Hall, and in their publicly stated position paper, the Coalition has urged the City to acquire the Hollywood, using a reasonable density transfer if necessary, in return for heritage designation of exterior, interior and theatre use and a community-use agreement for a broad-based cultural and community use in perpetuity. The Coalition’s plan has been outlined in our document “Reinventing the Hollywood“.

The Coalition also has an extensive business plan that outlines how this can be accomplished. The business plan demonstrates how the Hollywood can be a low-cost self-supporting venue.

The Hollywood is no ordinary building; it is an art deco monument to a golden age of movies and community spirit. While some of its facilities are in need of an upgrade, most of the heritage features remain functional, such as the 35 mm projection room and screen and sound system which are unique. These important heritage elements remain at risk in the Church’s current plans. The Coalition insists that they be designated and protected.

The Coalition plans include modifications to the stage to allow for live music events. Steve Edge, who has been Artistic Director of the Rogue Folk Club for 27 years, said “Vancouver has very little in mid-sized performance venues between 400 and 1,000 seats. The Hollywood would fill a niche with an affordable 500 – 600 seat venue for community arts groups, theatres, and concert presenters that is much needed.”

The upgrading would also add digital projection equipment, expand the lobby, add accessible washrooms, and create a green room for the stage. All of this is feasible and is detailed in the Coalition’s business plan.

City ownership is the preferred option for a community amenity

The proposed purchase agreement by the Church is great for the buyer and seller, however, not only does it leave everyone else out in the cold, it denies the community a vibrant and flexible performance space. With the recent demolition of the Ridge and the closure of the Jazz Cellar, we are witnessing a disturbing trend of increased housing density and decreased cultural amenities. The Coalition has developed a plan whereby the City can purchase this wonderful theatre at an affordable price; and which will not become a burden to taxpayers in the future.

Steve Edge is confident that the Hollywood will be a self-supporting venue, just as the St. James Community Square has been during its 20 years in operations, where the Rogue Folk Club has operated. Steve Edge said, “The St. James’ board fully supports the Coalition’s proposed model for the Hollywood as a City-owned cultural facility run by a non-profit.”

In conclusion, City ownership and community programming of the Hollywood is still the best solution, the one the Coalition supports, and Vancouverites insist that City Council pursue. With an election looming, it’s more urgent than ever that City Hall listen to the community’s wishes and do what’s best for all concerned, not just the purchasers and power brokers. The Hollywood should be for everyone.

The Save the Hollywood Coalition has support in writing for City ownership and community programming from arts organizations across the city. Heritage Vancouver Society has very strongly supported full heritage designation of the Hollywood exterior, interior and theatre use.

The Hollywood is one of the very last heritage theatres in Vancouver and the last one west of Granville. It is a valuable art deco heritage asset that must be saved. We are not there yet.

We encourage the City to work with the Coalition and the theatre’s present owner to achieve a solution that embraces the Hollywood’s heritage while ensuring its brightest future.

Hollywood Theatre tops Heritage Vancouver’s annual “Top 10 Endangered Sites” list

Photo courtesy Heritage Vancouver
Photo courtesy Heritage Vancouver

Heritage Vancouver just released their annual list of endangered sites, and the Hollywood Theatre is in the #1 spot.

The list is much anticipated by heritage advocates, as well as anyone concerned about preserving the character of this city in the wake of the pell-mell rush of development.

While this is not a list that we would wish to be on top of, the fact is that it makes for a tremendous boost in awareness of the plight of the Hollywood, and that is very welcome.

One can only hope that this extra publicity helps speed us toward a solution that benefits the community, the owner, and the city. Read the Coalition’s vision of how that would work, and if you haven’t yet, be sure to write the Mayor and council with your support!

For full details, check out today’s report in the Vancouver Courier.

How the City’s next move can make or break the Hollywood

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 11.06.54 PM

First, the good news: a clear vision for the Hollywood is now on the table. One that would see this heritage landmark and much-loved neighbourhood cinema not just preserved, but transformed into something even better than before – a vital and dynamic hub for cinema, music, film festivals, lectures and forums, and much more.

(Click to read the document, Reinventing the Hollywood)

Now the not-so-good news: despite some welcome actions so far, plus assurances that they are working toward a balanced solution that addresses issues raised by the Coalition while respecting the interests of the Hollywood’s current owner (and parties who may be interested in purchase of it), the City appears to be avoiding the one solution that’s most likely to make this vision a reality. That solution? For the City to acquire the Hollywood as a heritage-designated, public arts and culture space.

For them to do so is no stretch of the imagination – it is a well-established model that is already the underpinning of Vancouver’s vibrant cultural realm. Did you know that in addition to Vancouver’s premier civic theatres, including the Orpheum, QE Theatre and Vancouver Playhouse, the City owns another 27 facilities that are operated by nonprofit arts and cultural societies? From the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (“The Cultch”) and the Firehall Theatre, to the Vancouver Art Gallery and the new York Theatre, Vancouver’s rich artistic and cultural life is in large part played out in City-owned spaces, that more often than not have significant heritage value as well.

The Coalition is confident that a City-owned outcome is achievable for the Hollywood, and is the only outcome that will enable the theatre to realize its fullest potential as an arts and culture hub on the city’s westside. There is simply no evidence to suggest that any other model is capable of delivering similar public-use capacity, economic viability or long-term stability in the context of Vancouver’s surging property market.

Despite much positive work, the City’s current leadership has also faced a good deal of criticism from neighbourhood groups, claiming that the City’s vision for Vancouver’s future is out of touch with local perspectives. We believe that the Coalition’s vision for the Hollywood’s future represents a great opportunity for the City to embrace a broadly popular movement that would speak volumes to voters about Council’s commitment to the heritage, local aspirations and cultural vitality of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods.

Please read “Reinventing the Hollywood, our just-completed, 10-page summary outlining our vision for the Hollywood’s future as a City-owned nonprofit arts and culture hub. Write City Council to show your support for this plan. And share this with anyone you know who cares about keeping Vancouver a vibrant, visionary and culturally dynamic place.

Take action:

1984 Vancouver Province article on the Hollywood

Michael Walsh has shared with us a great article on the Hollywood Theatre that he wrote for the Province back in 1984, documenting the neighbourhood cinema’s creative attempts to survive and thrive as an independent.

Click to read this great blast from the Hollywood’s not-so-distant past.

(You can find tons more great reading on Michael’s blog, Reeling Back: Everything Old is New Again.)

Petition to save Vancouver’s character houses

This petition was started by Caroline Adderson, a heritage advocate and friend of the Hollywood Theatre. Her Vancouver Vanishes page is “a lament for and a celebration of the vanishing character homes of Vancouver.” Although she has already well surpassed her petition’s goal of 2,300 signatures, we wanted to mention and link to it here. If you haven’t already, we certainly encourage you to sign it.

Click here to view and sign the petition.

From the petition introduction:

More than 750 homes are demolished annually in Vancouver, many of them pre-1940s houses built with a high level of craftsmanship and quality materials. Most of these homes are already adapted, or adaptable, to modern living requirements and are a more affordable and ecologically sustainable option than the houses that currently replace them. Each demolition sends more than 50 tonnes of waste to the landfill, taking with it the history and character of the streetscape and the mature gardens that grace our established neighbourhoods.

January 21 update: Where we stand – and the special skill we’re urgently seeking

Hollywood Theatre circa 1961. Thanks to the Kits (Now and Then) Facebook Page for the photo.
Hollywood Theatre circa 1961. Thanks to the Kits (Now and Then) Facebook Page for the photo.

Many of you have been asking for an update on what’s happening. Some media reports have implied that the Hollywood is safely out of danger, however this is by no means the case. We apologize for not providing more info sooner, but things have been very much in flux; sometimes the outlook seemed to go from ecstatic to gloomy within hours. But as we write this, though the outcome remains far from certain, our hopes are moving in a positive direction. We now can give you a hint of where we’re at.

At the same time, there’s some vital new tasks on our plate that we’re hoping some of you could help with. Read on! (Or click to go straight to what we need!)

Committee activity

The Coalition has been communicating and meeting regularly through the Christmas holidays. Subcommittees have focused on the many key tasks, including contact with the City and with the owner; assembly of a detailed business plan; communicating with potential buyers; and researching successful examples of similar endeavours across the country and around the world.

Meetings of key players

Most recently, a meeting was held between representatives of the Coalition and of city staff. And our understanding is that the owner, Dino Bonnis, continues to be interested in a solution that would work for the community, the city, and himself. But the final shape of that solution is yet to be fully defined.

Encouraging statements from City Hall

Meanwhile, in the media and in response to supporters’ letters, positive statements appeared from city councilors Geoff Meggs. A welcome statement was, “the city cannot and will not issue any development or demolition permits for the site.” He also said, “the theatre is safe from demolition and redevelopment until a suitable solution is found. There will be no development permit issued until future use is determined.”

Despite these encouraging signs, we continued to advocate to City Council for a 45-day extension (to the maximum 120 days allowable) of the protection order. Many thanks for the number of letters that supporters sent to City Council about this. While the order did expire on Monday January 20th, and we didn’t get it formally extended, we have – thanks in part to your letters – been assured that the City and the owner have agreed to honour the 45-day protection period unoficially.

What we need now

One of the options we are exploring is to find a philanthropist who would buy the Hollywood and gift it to a nonprofit “Hollywood Theatre Society” for operating in perpetuity as a community movie, arts and performance space. There are a number of variations on this concept under consideration, modeled after many other nonprofit success stories, but the key is finding potential donors and/or owners.

This is quite a pressing issue and we must act on it very soon. However, locating such people is not something any of us are experts at, nor can we (due to the existing, essential committee work) devote full time to it.

This is one area where you can be of vital help. We need people who are knowledgeable about fundraising, and experienced at locating, approaching and communicating with potential owners or donors. Not necessarily asking for anything directly, but just able to “open the doors”, so to speak.

Of course, we are also happy to hear directly from anyone who might have the capacity and interest, if not to purchase the Hollywood then to at least make a sizable donation – not only individuals but also corporations/organizations. But the key task is to research and find people who would welcome the opportunity to put their resources to work for something that will have tremendous meaning for both themselves and the community at large.

If any of this sounds like something you, or someone you know, may be able to help with… please get in touch with us by contacting the Save the Hollywood Coalition at savethehollywoodtheater@gmail.com .

We are at a critical juncture in the process of preserving the Hollywood for future generations. With a lot of hard work and a little luck, we will have a successful outcome and a two-thumbs-up “Hollywood Ending” we can all be truly satisfied with!

Adam Abrams

Communications Committee,
Save the Hollywood Theatre Coalition