Trace(s): The Denman Auditorium, “The Showcase of Georgia”
1926: Denman Auditorium, where high art mixed with wrestlers, stand ups, politicians and rock and roll idols
When the Pacific Coast Hockey Association folded in 1926, Frank Patrick cast around for a new family venture. Within the year he built Denman Auditorium right beside his dad’s arena, at the corner of Denman Street and West Georgia Street.
The place was an instant hit, offering a venue for the rough and tumble of boxing and wrestling, the blood sport of politics, roof raising energies of revival meetings like Aimee Semple McPherson’s Foursquare Church, dance marathons and some more sublime performing arts moments. At its October 18 opening, Mayor L.D. Taylor dubbed the auditorium a “magnificent new rendezvous.” Frank, bursting with pride, claimed to the press that his pleasure palace was without equal in western Canada.
It was a splashy debut but, with the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, Denman Auditorium found itself in stiff competition for revenues with the crowd of theatres up on Granville. It was touch and go through the 30s. Revenues and acts dried up, everyone was scrambling. There was a temporary reprieve during WW II, when the place was taken over by the neighbouring Boeing aircraft factory as an assembly plant.
After the war, times were still uncertain and the auditorium changed hands a couple of times. Then, it seems, fortune smiled. Movies were bigger than ever in the post-war years and the ornate vaudeville and concert halls uptown tried to catch the new market, ditching live acts in their rush. In 1947, the owners of Denman Auditorium sensed an opportunity, sank some money into renovations and by 1952, after a couple of tries, relaunched the space as a live performance destination, calling it Georgia Auditorium.
Suddenly the place had new life. Showgoers flocked to the mash up of acts: Arthur Rubinstein, Sir John Gielgud doing Shakespeare, Mantovani and his orchestra, the stand up of Jack Benny, croonings of popular artists like Nat King Cole and an endless stream of rock and roll idols. The box office was boffo, and in 1958, word had it the room was booked for an unheard-of 340 days. One inspired reporter dubbed the auditorium the “showcase of Georgia.”
When stars weren’t on stage the room was still packed, with an assortment of noisy religious meetings, graduation ceremonies and political rallies. In 1957, a rapt audience gave a huge cheer to John Diefenbaker as he kicked off the federal election campaign that handed his Progressive Conservative Party a landslide victory. Local show biz legend Red Robinson remembers the acts and the energy, and his first-ever guest appearance on a stage, in 1953, on Al Jordan’s live radio show, “Theme for Teens.”
In 1959, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre opened at the other end of Georgia and sealed the fate of Georgia Auditorium. Within the year, the building was shuttered, sold for $15,000, and demolished. The property became a parking lot and stayed that way for some 25 years.
From the City of Vancouver Archives and the Vancouver Public Library
Written by: John Wellwood
Researched and Edited by: John Wellwood and Todd Smith
Visual Design: Todd Smith
Voice Over: Todd Smith