Granville's Theatre Row in 1951

Granville's Theatre Row in 1951. At the height of neon's popularity in the 1950s, lights from the Vogue, Orpheum, Capitol, Paradise, and Plaza theatres reflected off Granville's rainy pavement. Artray Studio photo, Vancouver Public Library 81525A

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Granville Street in 1960

Granville Street in 1960. Beginning in the late 50s, anti-neon activists argued that Vancouver's "neon jungle" distracted from the city's natural beauty. But Dal Richards remembers it differently: "We might have been a neon jungle, but [it] was a very artistic jungle, I would say." Ken Oakes photo, Vancouver Sun

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Vancouver Block 1912

Construction on the Vancouver Block was almost complete by August 21, 1912. When Vancouver's centre moved away from Hastings, the Vancouver Block helped Granville emerge as the business hub of the city. W.J. Cairns photo, City of Vancouver Archives Bu P502.1

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Theatre Row

Granville's Theatre Row.

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Vancouver Block

Vancouver Block neon.

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Here is Bill Pechet on the motivations behind the Great White Way light installation design.

NARRATOR
Here is Bill Pechet on the motivations behind the Great White Way light
installation design.

BILL PECHET
Well, I think one of the most important things about Granville Street was that it
was the epicentre—and still really is the epicentre—of the kind of cultural and
party life of the city.

So um, when we began the project, uh, we looked a lot at historic photos. Uh,
some that were in black and white and of course the Herzog ones in colour. Uh,
we realized that one of the things we could do in the reconstruction of the street
was to evoke um that energy that came from the light.

When you mix colours together, you get white. And that’s one of the reasons we
went with white. But at the same time, we a white colour that had a higher Calvin
number so that it would fix the light as a kind of nostalgic white, not a cool white
that you would find in contemporary lighting systems.

NARRATOR
It was important to Bill that the Great White Way complement existing light and
architecture on Granville Street.

BILL PECHET
In a way, we were trying to do as banal a fixture as possible so that whatever we
put there wouldn’t compete with the existing signage. So the tube itself is a very
simple form. And in a way, it’s not so fixed in any particular design period. Uh,
from afar, it could look like a fluorescent light tube. Or, up close, it’s just kind of
able to co-habitate with a more colourful sign.

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Kevin Dale McKeown recalls a recent visit with his parents to see the Great White Way for the first time.

NARRATOR
Kevin Dale McKeown recalls a recent visit with his parents to see the Great
White Way for the first time.

KEVIN DALE MCKEOWN
My parents are in their nineties.

We had occasion a few weeks ago to come downtown at night. So we decided
to come down across the Granville Street Bridge, ‘cause Mom and Dad had not
seen those new vertical lights.

And so we wanted them to see that. It makes quite an impression as you come
over the bridge and head down Granville Street. And Mom, oh they were both
very impressed, and Mom said, “My gosh, it’s just like it used to be.”

You know, it has that, that feeling of being you know, the main drag, the heart of
the city that we lost for so many years and it’s back again.

NARRATOR
We’ve just heard from Kevin Dale McKeown on his appreciation for the return
of light and life to Granville Street through the 2010 installation of the Great
White Way. Not everyone has the same immediate affection for the new light
installation. Civic historian John Atkin has mixed feelings about it.

JOHN ATKIN
The Great White Way was sort of an accident because all of the light on the
street combined to create, from a distance, that white strip of light. I’m not totally
sold on the literal sort of idea of white light making the Great White Way. I have
a minor concern that that much light blocks the ability of new signs to actually
stand on the street to contribute to things.

I think I would have taken every second one out and not had such a strong piece
because I think that overrules some of the ideas around sort of the, sort of the
randomness of signs on buildings and that sort of idea of just a more sort of
organic construction of things.

Museum of Vancouver

© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

This Visible City activity focuses on how neon relates to impressions of civic identity. Through original interviews, students will learn about Vancouver’s enthusiastic welcome of neon in the 1920s, and how it came to be restricted, as a way of understanding how architecture contributes to a variety of assumptions about civic identity. After analyzing a primary document and a news article, students will form their own opinion of neon’s relationship to identity and be asked to write a creative piece describing this opinion from the point of view of a character walking down the Great White Way.

Learning Objectives:

- Introduce students to civic architectural planning
- Draw links between architecture and civic identity
- Demonstrate knowledge of historical and contemporary factors that help define Canadian civic identity, including culture, community, environment and geography
- Analyze and evaluate information from a secondary source a like news article
- Evaluate a selected civic decision according to its impact
- Demonstrate effective research skills, including accessing and assessing visual and auditory information and primary documents in order to form a critical opinion
- Write an imaginative text that thoughtfully represents the city from different social positions and points of view

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