In 1948, Famous Players installed the Orpheum's first neon sign.

Famous Players bought the Orpheum in the early 1930s, signaling the decline of vaudeville and the rise of "talkie" films. In 1948, Famous Players installed the Orpheum's first neon sign. Art Jones photo, Vancouver Public Library 80714

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The Seymour Street entrance of the Orpheum Theatre

The Orpheum opened as a vaudeville theatre on November 8, 1927. Leonard Frank photo, Vancouver Public Library 11034.

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In 1946 the Vogue was just one of many movie theatres on Theatre Row

In 1946 the Vogue was just one of many movie theatres on Theatre Row. Visible in this photo are the Orpheum, Capitol, Paradise, and Plaza theatres. Dominion Photo Co. photo, Vancouver Public Library 27166

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The Smilin' Buddha Cabaret sign

The Smilin' Buddha is one of the most iconic signs from Vancouver's neon heyday. It perfectly reflects the playfulness and creativity of neon sign makers of the 1940s and '50s. Vancouver Sun photo

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The Vogue Sign

The statue of Roman goddess Diana sitting atop the 62-foot Vogue sign has caused some controversy over the years. When owner Harry Reifel had a new statue made to replace the rusted original in 1967, City Council deemed its curvy silhouette "too sexy." The sign went up anyway. When the theatre manager griped about the sign's $5,000 price tag, Reifel declared, "She's beautiful and worth it.” Mel Buenaventura photo

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The interior of the Orpheum

Contemporary audience seating at the Orpheum Theatre. Courtesy of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

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Drinking at the Smilin' Buddha

Concert goers complained about police oppression at the Smilin’ Buddha, describing violent arrests and unfair threats to the club’s liquor license. In 1979, the local punk 'zine Snot Rag proclaimed, “The Smilin’ Buddha is, at the time, the only regular punk club in Vancouver. The Smilin’ Buddha is also, at the time, the only regularly busted club in Vancouver.” Bev Davies photo

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Crowd at the Smilin' Buddha Cabaret

"I loved the music. The people. Being able to use my skills. Some of the best times I ever had. The potential seemed limitless," photographer Bev Davies told the Province newspaper in 2006. Davies' photographs are a beautiful record of Vancouver's punk scene of the late 1970s and early '80s. Bev Davies photo

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The bar at the Yale

Plans for renovations to the Yale include removing dropped ceiling panels, extending the bar, and expanding the dance floor. There are also plans to restore the facade to its original storefront style windows. Les Bazso photo, Vancouver Sun

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The Yale sign at night

The Yale's unique sign lights up the corner of Granville and Drake. Wendy D. photo

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Here are Dal Richard’s first recollections of the Orpheum, from the 1930s when he was a junior high school student.

NARRATOR
Here are Dal Richard’s first recollections of the Orpheum, from the 1930s when
he was a junior high school student.

DAL RICHARDS
I was in Point Grey Junior High. And one of the kids in my class, father played
the organ in the Orpheum Theatre.

So he was able to get passes, and I saw any number of vaudeville shows in
the Orpheum. And just thought, that would be the ultimate for me, to have an
orchestra in the Orpheum stage.

NARRATOR
After those formative years at Point Grey Junior high, Dal would fulfill his dream
of becoming a professional musician. He remembers hearing Juliette, who would
become a Canadian vocal legend, sing for the first time at the Orpheum in 1940.

DAL RICHARDS
I got a call from Ivan Ackery, who was the manager of the Orpheum. And he had
a policy of cutting out the shorts of the daily program on Friday evenings, so he
featured a local band between the movies.

And he asked if I’d be interested, and I certainly was. So we went to the
Orpheum for a rehearsal, and after the rehearsal, Ivan said to me, “That’s a good
show, Dal. But I noticed you don’t have a girl singer.”

We called them girl singers in those days. Sometimes we still do. Ivan said to
me, “I heard a little girl in the Kitsilano Showboat the other night. And I’d like you
to listen to her.” And I said, “Ivan, that’s not really not the image that I want.” And
he said, “Well, will you just listen to her.” So I listened to her, and she could sing,
all right.

And it was June of 1940. And she sang “There Will Always Be an England.” We
were at war at the time, and she brought the house down. And that was the first
professional engagement of Juliette, who went on to be a very famous Canadian
singer.

NARRATOR
Now in his 90s, Dal is still swinging at the Orpheum.

DAL RICHARDS
Recently, I celebrated my 90th birthday there. We had a concert. A lot of my
friends—singers, musicians, choirs, everything else—part of it all. Now we’re
making plans for a 95th birthday. So I’m quite thrilled about that.

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Orpheum theatre historian Norman Young recalls his first time onstage at the Orpheum as a child.

NARRATOR
Orpheum theatre historian Norman Young recalls his first time onstage at the
Orpheum as a child, when he entered a yo-yo contest—one of many Ivan Ackery
designs to attract children and their families to the theatre.

NORMAN YOUNG
Harvey Lowe, at 14, was the world’s yo-yo champion. Vancouver boy. Won the
title at London England at the Great World’s Yo-Yo Championship.

Harvey Lowe could do anything with a yo-yo – he could play with three yo-yos at
once. I mean, he was unbelievable.

The yo-yo was the rage anyway, and it became a special rage, in some ways, in
Vancouver. So, if you were a kid, you’d go to a corner grocery store and you’d
sign up for the Cheerio Yo-Yo contest. And you buy your yo-yo there, and you
play 10 specific yo-yo things: walking the dog, cat’s cradle. And you go in the
contest.

And there I was, on the stage at the Orpheum Theatre, doing it. They did 10. If
you missed, you got off the stage, like a dance marathon. Down until one guy
won.

I think I might have been on there when there were still 50 people. But I played
the Orpheum when I was 10 years old. Have you got that on your resume?

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DOA frontman Joe Keithley remembers the scene inside the Buddha during the punk heyday of 1978.

NARRATOR
DOA frontman Joe Keithley remembers the scene inside the Buddha during the
punk heyday of 1978.

JOE KEITHLEY
When you walked into the Buddha, was pretty interesting. ‘Cause the first guy
you saw was Igor, this Croatian guy who was middle-aged and huge. And
literally, he was a doorman, ‘cause he was as big as the door. You could not run
by him if you didn’t have ID.

He would say to people, it didn’t matter how old you were, you could be like 50.
He would go, ‘Do you got ID?’

Once Igor’d let you in, it was really long and narrow, you know, maybe 20 feet
wide, and it’s like 150 feet long, and the bar was on your right, and you looked
straight up to the stage was at the back and kind of to the left, right.

It was really gaudy beyond belief. I mean, it hadn’t had an update since, I don’t
know, 1952 or somethin’ like that.

NARRATOR
Murphy Farrell is a drummer who performed at the Buddha with a Vancouver
punk band called the Schmorgs. Murphy describes the scene inside the club
during their shows.

MURPHY FARRELL INTERVIEW #2
It’s just packed with people. It’s smokyy, it stinks of beer, and there’s just bodies
flying all over the place, and the band is playing full-tilt, as loud as it can go. And
everybody’s having fun.

NARRATOR
Joe Keithley recalls the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret owners re-painting the nightclub
interior after a fire in the 1980s.

JOE KEITHLEY
And when the Buddha burned down and they repainted it, it was real
classic ‘cause they said, well, it’s a tragedy, the Buddha’s burned down.
Everybody’s played there from Jimmy Hendrix to DOA. And they got back on
its feet, but still, nobody wanted to show up anymore. You know, once beyond
about ’83, ’84, people didn’t, they stopped going to the Buddha. You know. It was
over.

NARRATOR
Once the local punk scene left the Buddha after 1982 as more venues opened
for bands to perform downtown, the club fell again into disrepair and eventually
closed.

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Drummer Murphy Farrell describes the Hastings Street transformation of the ‘70s.

NARRATOR
Drummer Murphy Farrell describes the Hastings Street transformation of the ‘70s
and how the changes made it ripe for punk to thrive at the Smilin’ Buddha
Cabaret.

MURPHY FARRELL
There was definitely a shift on Hastings. You know, things started to deteriorate
in that area. And so the Buddha, which used to be a supper club, and actually
the guy who ran that, there’s the famous story, his name was Lashman, and
everyone knows Lashman as the guy that fired Jimmy Hendrix because [laughs],

We asked him, “Hey Lashman, you know, you fired Jimmy Hendrix? How come
you fired him?” He goes, “too loud. Music’s too loud.” So little did he know.

So anyways, so Lashman, you know, to his credit, when Hastings Street started
to go down the tubes, he started just renting it out or letting the youth in there so
they had a venue.

And I don’t think he really cared what was happening as long as he was making
money. And he certainly wasn’t spending any money on his club, but you know,
he put up with it, and it became well known all over North America.

NARRATOR
According to Joe Keithley, frontman of Vancouver punk band DOA, business

started to pick up dramatically at the Smilin’ Buddha with the advent of punk in
the Downtown Eastside.

JOE KEITHLEY
The Buddha went by, had this slogan was uh, “Vancouver’s Oldest and Finest
Nightclub.” Well, it had been many years since it had been Vancouver’s finest.

Lashman Jeer and his wife Nancy who owned the Buddha and ran it for years,
were really happy ‘cause there’s like 25 punks there buying beer at $1.25 each,
and they’d paid $1.50 to get in.

‘Cause the usual Buddha crowd was, like, usually six people. They’re be like two
drunks, two hookers, and two undercover cops. And that was about how big the
crowd, as big as the crowd ever got in the Buddha ‘til the punks showed up. So
all of a sudden Lashman is going like, “Hey, I’m selling all this beer,” right. This is
great. “You guys do whatever you want. Just keep bringing the people.”

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By the 1930s, the Yale Hotel pub had developed a reputation.

NARRATOR
By the 1930s, the Yale Hotel pub had developed a reputation for providing
what other entertainment establishments didn’t always serve at the time: beer.
Vancouver big-band leader Dal Richards remembers liquor runs to the Yale in
the 1930s.

DAL RICHARDS
Well, I have an odd memory of the Yale. There used to be a ballroom, a Trianon
Ballroom on Granville Street, right across the street from the Yale Hotel. And
uh, I had a band there for a period in the 30s. Uh, liquor laws were completely
different in those days. There was no beer or spirits of any sort sold in a
ballroom.

But the Yale had their beer parlour. So at intermission, the whole crowd of maybe
three or four hundred people, it seemed, swept across Granville Street over to
the Yale, and were gone for about half an hour while they had their beer, and
then they’d come back and finish dancing in the Trianon Ballroom.

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Mud Bay Blues Band drummer Murphy Farrell recalls playing opening sets at the Yale for big-name blues legends.

NARRATOR
Mud Bay Blues Band drummer Murphy Farrell recalls playing opening sets at the
Yale for big-name blues legends.

MURPHY FARRELL
The Yale, it’s sort of like “The” blues bar in Vancouver, it was. And they used to
book touring bands. It was kind of hard to get into the Yale unless you were sort
of on the A-List, right, because it’s one room, there’s tons of bands that wanna
play there and we definitely had some good nights there.

We opened up for James Cotton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. So we would get in
there, you know, we’d do recordings and showcase stuff and we had one of our
um CD release parties there.

So we used to do quite a bit of stuff there. Good spot.

NARRATOR
The Yale closed for renovations in November 2011 and is scheduled to re-open
in late 2012 or early 2013. In the meantime, music director Joe Luciak faces the
tough job of keeping the blues fresh in a new era for the Yale.

JOE LUCIAK
Nobody likes change, especially someplace where the traditions and the whole
formula and system is so deeply rooted and entrenched.

And here, these are my aunts and I want to give them the world, but I want to
make sure that—I wanna give them the world now, but I wanna make sure that
the Yale’s there tomorrow for everybody.

But you know, blues is a timeless genre of music. However, the people that
listen to it are not. People die, and that’s reality, and it’s important that the Yale
repopulate their audience.

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Big-band leader Dal Richards remembers the theatre’s opening day in April 1941.

NARRATOR
Big-band leader Dal Richards remembers the theatre’s opening day in April
1941. A rendering of Roman hunting goddess Diana perched on top of the 62-
foot-high neon sign. Diana caused a stir for what was considered a racy rendition
of a woman’s body. But that didn’t stop Dal’s band from performing that day.

DAL RICHARDS
The most controversial neon sign was on the Vogue Theatre. It was an outline of
a lady called Diana, the goddess, and it was a little risqué, apparently. There was
quite a bit of criticism about it.

Incidentally, we opened the Vogue Theatre. That would be in 1941, with a stage
show, had an augmented band: 25 musicians. And a George Formby movie was
playing. And George Formby was a banjo player, played his banjo in his movie,
as a rule. So we were onstage, broadcasting over CJOR, Dick Diesbecker was
the announcer. And Wally Peters was the local banjo player. He played a solo
with us for the opening of the Vogue.

The Vogue is a very beautiful theatre. And its neon sign has always been very
artistic. Clearly the winner, I would say, if there were to be a contest for neon
signs.

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Here is Jon-Paul Walden, former theatre manager of the Vogue, reflecting on his experiences with the Vogue sign.

NARRATOR
Sixty years after the Vogue first opened its doors, Jon-Paul Walden became
the theatre manager, a job he kept from 2001 to 2006. He spent many hours
maintaining the Vogue’s neon sign. Here is Jon-Paul Walden reflecting on his experiences with the contemporary era Vogue Theatre.

JON-PAUL WALDEN
When I was running the Vogue I had to dabble with the neon constantly. It was
sort of my pet project. I love the effect it had turning it on at night. And so I would
work with it the best I could because it’s a very expensive project.

NARRATOR
Granville Street has changed dramatically in the years since Jon-Paul left his
post at the Vogue in 2006. Thinking back to his time working there in the early
2000s, Jon-Paul recalls a very different downtown core.

JON-PAUL WALDEN
I remember working at the Vogue and Seymour was dicey then. I mean, I know
that, unfortunately the prostitution ring had sort of moved into Seymour Street, so
I remember walking down Seymour and it was a little sketchy. Now it’s the
complete opposite.

NARRATOR
Life on the street has changed since the days Jon-Paul worked at the Vogue,
too. Here, he recalls his relationships with people who lived in the alleys behind
the theatre.

JON-PAUL WALDEN
There were a number of street people that lived in that alley. So you’d have
to learn to deal with that and work with that and work with them. Because
essentially, they’re the caretakers of the street at night, however they wanted to.
So you, particularly with the Vogue, which opened its doors in the alley, half of
its traffic came in from the backdoor, so I would try and work with these people
because they had an understanding of what was going on and they became the
stewards of the streets and my protectors at times and would be warning me
of certain things. Because they knew the streets better than I did, or anybody,
frankly.

NARRATOR
We now experience a more cleaned-up Granville Street than the one Jon-Paul
remembers from the early 2000s. He has mixed feelings about the change.

JON-PAUL WALDEN
Whether it’s shifted for the better? I suppose so. Is it more interesting? I wouldn’t
say so. ‘Cause I do find that street life and that organic kind of existence very
real. And we have this ability in Vancouver, I suppose, to just to wipe it clean and
push it away and, as opposed to really working with it and understanding it and
sort of, taking on the responsibility of what we’ve created as a society instead of
sweeping it underneath to the next street to the next street.

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Learning Objectives

This Visible City activity focuses on neon signs that represent four iconic music venues of Vancouver. Students are asked to make links between how the aesthetic choices of each sign relate to the kinds of music played in the venue and the audience the venue attracted. To conclude, students will design their own sign for an imaginary music venue of their choice.

Learning Objectives:

- Learn about the neon signs of four iconic music venues in Vancouver

- Observe the aesthetic properties of each of the signs

- Link these aesthetic choices to the desired identity of the establishment and its area

- Design a sign for an imaginary music venue based on previous observations about how aesthetics relate to the identity of the venue

- Interpret, analyze, and evaluate information from texts by examining and comparing ideas and elements among texts to make and support reasoned judgments

- Demonstrate effective written, oral, and graphic communication skills

- Speak and listen to extend thinking by personalizing new ideas and information

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