Blog | The Savoy Theatre: 135 Cordova

The Savoy Theatre: 135 Cordova

By admin | March 6, 2019

Which parkade was once home to Vancouver’s premiere theatre?

Two photos stacked. On the top, a historical photo of The Savoy Theatre, circa 1901, with banners and a large star decorating the facade, a sign at the top of the building reading: The Big Show To-night,: and a horse and buggy sitting outside of the theatre. The bottom photo features the same local today, but shows a modern building with blue, green and yellow glass windows, red doors, and a red staircase, which leads to the parkade.

Top: The Savoy Theatre, circa 1901, likely dressed up for when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall visited Vancouver. Bottom: The outside of the current Gastown Parkade. Photos via Changing Vancouver: then and now images.

Not to be confused with the Savoy Pub on Hastings, the Savoy Hotel’s theatre, the Savoy Theatre or the Grand depending on who you asked, was the light of Cordova Street in 1901. Building a small theatre next to a hotel was a common tactic as out-of-towners liked the proximity of the entertainment and locals didn’t have too far to go if they had a bit too much to drink. It was part of Vancouver’s version of the Las Vegas Strip—minus the lights (it was 1901).

The earliest record we have of 135 Cordova is a restaurant run by a man named Boehlofsky in 1887. First called the International Restaurant, it soon became the International Restaurant and Hotel which was eventually renamed the Savoy in 1898. The restaurant was turned over to the Ferrara brothers, whose  offerings were lauded, even by the city’s snootiest critics. With the praise and the name change pulling in the crowds, a small theatre was constructed next door. Architect William Blackmore, a man said to have fled Winnipeg when he was unable to pay $5,000 in debt, was hired to design what would become the Savoy/Grand Theatre.

In the early days, the Savoy was one of only a few theatres in Vancouver. The Savoy was also known to present moving pictures before becoming a confectionery in the 1920s. Sadly, even the sweet shop couldn’t save the space. With the war looming, much of the 100-block was left vacant and the beautiful old theatre was abandoned. By 1940 it was demolished.

But this story doesn’t end there. In the 1990s, the Woodward’s parking garage, needed to expand. Where the theatre once stood, Henriquez Partners Architects designed and built one of the “World’s Coolest Car Parks.” However, it left a little surprise hiding in the bottom.

In 2004 the ground floor re-opened as Storyeum, an interactive local historical entertainment experience. Actors once again marched across the space of 135 Cordova, bringing the spirit of the Savoy back to life. Storyeum was a draw for tourists and locals alike with live performances from local actors covering Indigenous myths, the arrival of the Europeans, Expo 86, and more. But the event was a money pit and despite copious government support and city grants, it was forced to close in 2006. Since then, the space has been used for fashion shows, galas, cafes, retail, and more recently, became home to the Vancouver Film School. Students now shoot their first films on the same ground where one of the city’s first theatres was built, bringing theatrical traditions into the digital age.

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