M u s e u m  C r e a t e d  L e s s o n

Musical Neon

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Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver, British Columbia

Audio 1 - Dal Richards
Here are Dal Richard’s first recollections of the Orpheum, from the 1930s when he was a junior high school student.
Museum of Vancouver
© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.
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Learning Object: Musical Neon
Audio 2 - Norman Young
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.
Museum of Vancouver
© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.
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Learning Object: Musical Neon
Audio 3 - Joe Keithley
DOA frontman Joe Keithley remembers the scene inside the Buddha during the punk heyday of 1978.
Museum of Vancouver
© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.
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Learning Object: Musical Neon
Audio 4 - Murphy Farrell
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.
Museum of Vancouver
© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.
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Learning Object: Musical Neon
The Orpheum 1948
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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Learning Object: Musical Neon
Audio 5 - Dal Richards
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.
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© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.
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Learning Object: Musical Neon
Audio 6 - Joe Luciak
Mud Bay Blues Band drummer Murphy Farrell recalls playing opening sets at the Yale for big-name blues legends. Joe Luciak, musical director of the Yale, speaks about the future of the Yale.
Museum of Vancouver
© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.
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Learning Object: Musical Neon
The Yale
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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Learning Object: Musical Neon
Audio 7 - Dal Richards
Big-band leader Dal Richards remembers the theatre’s opening day in April 1941.
Museum of Vancouver
© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.
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Learning Object: Musical Neon
Audio 8 - Jon-Paul Walden
Here is Jon-Paul Walden, former theatre manager of the Vogue, reflecting on his experiences with the contemporary era Vogue Theatre.
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© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.
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Learning Object: Musical Neon
The Orpheum Theatre 1928
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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Learning Object: Musical Neon
The Interior of the Orpheum
The interior of the Orpheum
Contemporary audience seating at the Orpheum Theatre. Courtesy of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

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Learning Object: Musical Neon
The Smilin' Buddha Cabaret
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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Learning Object: Musical Neon
The Vogue Theatre 1946
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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Learning Object: Musical Neon
The Vogue Theatre
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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Learning Object: Musical Neon
Musical Neon: Activity 1 (Discussion Questions)
- What do each of these neon signs say about the establishment they signify? How can you tell?
- Why would the designer of the sign or the venue owner decide to use the symbols, font, and size that they used?
- How does the neon sign represent the identity that each venue desired? Do you think they succeeded? Why or why not?
- What kinds of people did the different establishments attract? How do you think the signs and the venues managed to attract the audience they wanted to?
- Venues like the Smilin’ Buddha and the Yale have had to close down in past years. Why do you think this happened? Why do you think venues like the Vogue and the Orpheum have remained popular?
Musical Neon: Activity 2 (Design & Present)
Design and present your own neon sign for a music venue.

Pick your favourite genre of music and design a neon sign that represents a venue where that kind of music might be played. Write a short description of your imaginary venue and its sign, keeping these questions in mind: What kinds of symbols would you use? Which font? What size would your sign be? What kind of audience would you hope to attract with this sign? What kind of atmosphere would you hope to convey with the sign?

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