Hollywood Theatre – Vancouver, BC

The Hollywood Theatre

3123 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC

For just over 75 years, Vancouver’s Fairleigh family ran West Broadway’s Hollywood Theatre, an elegant single-screen neighbourhood cinema that frequently filled its 500-plus seats during Hollywood’s heyday in the 40s & 50s by screening nightly double features. The family became adept at creatively combining juxtaposing movies on the same bill to maximize audience turn-out: a mid-70s marquee advertises the Oscar-nominated Day of the Jackal backed by an obscure Roger Corman B-movie, something called Night Call Nurses (with Cinderella as the weekend’s matinee!), while the 80s saw My Left Foot followed by Rambo II.

However, with pressure from cable, home video and the rise of personal computers, the Hollywood suffered the same dwindling numbers and shrinking box office profits as nearly all North American theatres during the 80s and 90s. The Hollywood clung on, helped along by a shrinking but loyal band of neighbourhood regulars. However, by the time of its 75 birthday, it was no longer possible to ignore the signs of neglect and disrepair, and with only 40-50 people turning up on the traditionally busy weekend nights. The end of the Hollywood was on the horizon. Having accumulated significant debt over the years and not being able to afford the astronomical costs of upgrading to digital projection, the Fairleigh family sold the business and closed its doors in May 2011, after an emotional final screening: the wistfully appropriate Cinema Paradiso.

The Hollywood sat idle for 18 months, gradually becoming more run-down and grim-looking as time passed, taking on that unique, neglected squalor than only abandoned buildings can. However, the theatre was given a second life when a local pentecostal church took over the lease towards the end of 2012. After extensive cleaning and repairs and a hunt for replacement parts for the vandalized 35 mm projectors, the marquee was re-lit and the doors opened to welcome guests once again. The church brought back the Hollywood’s long-time projectionist Chris Unwin to screen several films over the course of 2013. These screenings were incredibly successful, with emotional audiences thrilled to return to the magical atmosphere of the Hollywood they thought they had lost.

However, the church’s stewardship of  the Hollywood could only ever be temporary, with the  fate of the Hollywood ultimately in the hands of its business owner. He sees profit in the prime Kitsilano location, but not in the vintage building. As of October 2013, the a group of concerned local residents called the Save the Hollywood Coalition has been actively fighting to keep the theatre as a functioning cinema and community gathering place. The story remains, in true cinematic tradition, to be continued.