web statistics
stanley thratre


The Stanley swings open: A $5.8 million upgrade brings the theatre back to its Big Band heyday.

After two years of fundraising and renovations, the newly refurbished Stanley Theatre at 12th and Granville is opening its doors to live theatre.

Damian Inwood, Theatre Writer, The Province
Oct 26 1998

Experts in drama lore believe that the walls of old theatres soak up performances and enrich new productions with characters from plays gone by.

If that's true, Stanley audiences could be in for a lively time, for the venerable theatre was built in 1930 and spent 60 years as a landmark cinema, showing the best that Hollywood had to offer.

"The Stanley already has a history, a sense of people going there to see things," says Bill Millerd, artistic director for the Arts Club Theatre.

"It had a life of its own as a lively theatre, albeit a cinema. To bring that back to life and enhance it by turning it into a venue for live theatre is quite thrilling."

The first production in the 650-seat theatre is the new musical revue Swing by Dean Reagan and Sam Lutfiyya, opening with a fundraising gala on Wednesday. The gala includes a lavish post-show dessert reception sponsored by Murchie's. Tickets are $95 (including a $75 tax receipt) from the Arts Club box office at 687-1644.

Swing features music from the '30s and '40s and it won't be hard for audiences to imagine themselves back in the Big Band heyday.

Many of the Stanley's original plaster decorations have been restored to their gold-leafed splendor. The ceiling is lined with gold scallop-shell lights and the square, fluted columns and arches have been preserved.

"They were fairly standard off-the-shelf plaster details," says architect Thom Weeks, of Proscenium Architecture & Interiors Inc., which oversaw the renovation. "You could order them from the catalogue."

The main changes to the theatre feature an expanded lobby and a reconfigured balcony, which is now about two metres closer to the stage.

The stage itself has more than doubled in size and a 25-metre fly tower has been built where scenery can be hung and then raised and lowered during performances.

Weeks says the colour scheme was taken from the original theatre design, except for the dome, which was painted but now glows with gold leaf.

The walls are a grey-brown taupe and the dome now has a section cut out, so that follow-spots can shine through.

On each side of the stage are small balconies called "Juliet boxes," ornately decorated with shields, griffins, garlands and grapes. They were purely decorative but can now be used as part of theatrical performances.

During the Stanley's life as a movie theatre, three different screens were anchored to the original proscenium arch, which was damaged in the process.

A new fibreglass version has been built that can be raised and lowered as needed.

The backstage has been excavated to include dressing rooms, a green room, electrical room and trap room.

Are there any ghosts at the Stanley?

"I don't know," chuckles Weeks. "There are two columns with an oily substance coming through, which we haven't painted yet. We're waiting for it to stop -- we joke that it's a stigmata."

The 650 seats are made of a burgundy fabric and the back wall under the balcony has a rich red venetian plaster finish.

The women's washrooms have been built to twice the number required by the building code, says Weeks. Upstairs behind the balcony, a "crush bar" has been built in the old movie projection booth.

Original slit windows look down over the theatre canopy to Granville Street.

The Stanley Theatre Society bought the theatre for $3.1 million and the total construction costs, including lighting and sound equipment, totals almost $6 million.

Construction was slightly delayed by a surprise discovery of a layer of asbestos that was sandwiched between the original roof and a replacement.

The outside of the building is made of Tindall stone, from a quarry near Winnipeg -- the same stone that the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa are made from.

Weeks says that blue glass windows are being installed into a domed turret at the top of the building, which will light up like a beacon.

Photo:vpl archives 1951

The vertical Stanley sign dates from 1940 and the stylized "Stanley" script dates back to 1957. The canopy, which is the theatre's third, is being renovated and all the neon replaced.

The building, with it's mix of art deco exterior and neo- classical interior, is a hybrid.

"A lot were at that time," says Weeks. "The architects were having a little bit of fun."

He says that when he first went into the Stanley to start on the project, he felt a bit disappointed.

With it's ugly orange hopsack wall coverings and sticky, Coke-soaked indoor-outdoor carpet, it all looked "pretty tired."

It didn't look very ornate but as the detail started to come back and the gold leaf returned, Weeks said he started to appreciate it more.

"When you see it all lit properly, it's quite a nice building, in a playful sort of way," he says. "We're quite happy."

Millerd says that actors and musicians are already getting excited about performing in the Stanley.

"The band leader of Swing, Gary Guthman, was wowed by it," said Millerd. "He could just feel right away what a great room it's going to be."

He says the original features have been retained and modern things added without detracting the overall gracefulness of The Stanley.

"You know people have passed through the doors and you know that somewhere in the walls are all those people, that for 60 years made this theatre come alive," he says.

"You can't replace that."


- Built in 1930, designed by Henry Holdsby Simmonds, who also designed the Grandview and Olympia Theatres.

- Interior Design: Neo-classical. A transition between the opulent design of the 1920s, represented by the Orpheum Theatre and the austere modernism of the 1940s, represented by the Vogue Theatre.

- Exterior design: Art deco. Heritage buff Robin Ward once likened its slightly Moorish facade to "a touch of Casablanca on south Granville."

- Seating: The Stanley originally seated 1,216 moviegoers and will seat 650 theatregoers.

- Admission: Originally between 10 and 40 cents.

- Sold: To Famous Players in 1941 for $268,000.

- Bought: For $3,173,000 by The Stanley Theatre Society in 1997.

- Total refurbishing costs: $5.8 million.

Help support this website by making a donation.

Donations of $20 or more receive a free poster.


All photos copyright © Christian Dahlberg except where stated otherwise. All rights reserved.
Vancouver panorama photo © Vancouver Lookout. www.vancouverlookout.com