Deal to save Vancouver’s iconic Hollywood Theatre heads to public hearing

An artist's rendering of the proposed development. Marianne Amodio Architecture Studio

A plan to save Kitsilano’s iconic Hollywood Theatre will go to a public hearing at Vancouver city council on Tuesday.

The deal would see the Art Deco-style structure at 3123-3129 West Broadway listed as a heritage building, with the exterior and certain interior elements preserved and revitalized.

In exchange, Bonnis Properties, which owns the land, would get a density bonus to build a six-storey, 40-unit condo complex next door. The land is currently zoned for a four-storey structure.

A rendering of the proposed development. City of Vancouver

The Hollywood was built in 1935 and designed by Harold Cullerene, who designed the first PNE Prize Home.

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It remains in nearly original condition, with “exotic” features including hieroglyphic decorations, inset scrolled figures, its original frameless glass ticket booth and prominent marquee.

The estimated cost to the owner of restoring and preserving the structure is about $2 million, and Bonnis would also have to pay the city a Development Cost Levy of about $715,000.

The owner would also sign a Community Use Agreement (CUA) restricting it to theatre-use only, and allowing non-profit and community groups access to the facility.

The Hollywood Theatre in the 1970s
The Hollywood Theatre in the 1970s. City of Vancouver

The new theatre’s business plan would see it operated as a for-profit business by Sean Mawhinney, building manager at the Commodore Ballroom, and David Hawkes, a long-time Vancouver event producer.

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“The newly renovated Hollywood Theatre will be a space for creative people to showcase their talents,” the plan states.

“Musicians, filmmakers, comedians, playwrights, orators and special interest groups wishing to raise dollars for their causes will be able to enjoy the revitalized space.”

long-time producer and member of the Hollywood Cinema Network Thierry Garrel says he still has concerns about the CUA, which he worries would prioritize for-profit live music at the expense of film.

His group, which has brought together members of dozens of film festivals and industry groups, wants a pledge that the theatre’s identity as a cinema will be preserved.

“The material heritage is something, but we also want to keep the spiritual heritage,” he said.

“Not only to honour its legacy, but also because there is a lack of venues and the two purpose built cinemas, Vancity Theatre and the Cinematheque, are obviously over-subscribed and cannot accept any more programming that all festivals are requesting.”

WATCH: Group tries to save Kitsilano’s Hollywood Theatre

The Hollywood was operated for more than 75 years as a film venue by the Farleigh family, and was one of the last 35mm film theatres left in the city when it shut down.

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Garrel argued that the theatre’s loss is being felt keenly in the film community, which he said has outgrown the spaces available to it in Vancouver.

“So the idea that the Hollywood Theatre could partially become the hub for festivals with a kind of major identity with documentary could be a way to also connect all the festivals.”

The Save the Hollywood Coalition, another group that has fought to preserve the building, has also raised concerns about the for-profit business model, stating it would prefer that the theatre be owned by the city and made available to arts groups.

The Farleigh family sold the Hollywood in 2011, raising concerns about its future.

In 2012, a group began using it as a church, and in 2013, Bonnis proposed redeveloping the property as a fitness centre.

The public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday July 17 at 6 p.m.

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