The lights are on again

Promising to make art its specialty

Published: Jul 30 2022, 01:01:am

Friday, July 30, 1993.

    For Leonard Schein's Festival Cinemas, it's the fourth one in three years. Today, it's the Plaza on downtown's Theatre Row.
    . . . another show.
    For the theatre itself, this is its fourth opening in 57 years of almost continuous service as a picture palace.
    Hasn't there always been a movie house at 881 Granville Street?
    First opened on Sept. 2, 1936, the Plaza was built on the site of the Maple Leaf Electric Theatre, a fixture on the Row since the Edwardian era. "Every feature of modern theatre design and equipment has been incorporated throughout," this newspaper [The Province] reported when the Maple Leaf opened on March 17, 1908.
    In February 1948, its local owner leased the Plaza to the British-based Odeon Theatres of Canada. The new managers renamed their 925-seat Vancouver acquisition, reopening it as the Odeon.
    In late 1977, when the Rank Organization sold its overseas holdings to the domestically-owned Canadian Theatres Group, the Odeon became a Canadian Odeon theatre.
    It became a Cineplex Odeon theatre in mid-1984, and remained so until its closure on June 18, 1987. One of three properties leased to the Toronto exhibitions chain by the Calgary-based holding company Nellmart Ltd, the Odeon stayed dark for nearly nine months.
    The name Plaza was back on the marquee for opening No. 3. The lease was picked up by the U.S.-owned Famous Players theatre chain, who turned the lights back on on March 13, 1988.
    Three years later, on June 20, 1991, FP quietly switched them off again. The Plaza went dark for the second time just eight weeks after Schein's locally-based Festival Cinemas came into existence with the opening of the Starlight on Denman Street.
    Today, the 580-seat Plaza joins the Starlight, Park and Varsity as a Festival cinema. Subleased from FP, it promises to program "first-run art, foreign-language, independent and specialty films from around the world."
    Its premiere attraction is Ron (Comic Book Confidential) Mann's Twist. The story of the 1960s dance craze, the Canadian documentarist's feature was a highlight of last year's Vancouver International Film Festival.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1993. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: And then, after nearly 90 years, there ceased to be a movie house at 881 Granville Street. The Plaza’s return engagement, noted in the above report, lasted for about four years. If the Maple Leaf Electric had been among the first theatres in Canada able to play “talking pictures,” the Plaza led the way in embracing the municipal government’s late-1990s “vision” for creating a downtown entertainment district based on nightclubs. Businesses licensed to sell liquor, they would provide spaces for drinking, dancing and live musical performances.
    Closed in 1997, the Plaza Theatre underwent extensive interior renovations before reopening in 1999 as a two-level cabaret called the Plaza Club. Further renovations were carried out in 2009, and the the nightclub reopened as The Venue . . . then it shuttered again in mid-2020, a result of the restrictions imposed on social gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Put up for sale in mid-April 2021, the building remains closed as of this posting (July 30, 2022).